Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
1:01 AM 6th April 2024

Classical Music: Ravel, Lennox Berkeley, Adam Pounds

Ravel, Lennox Berkeley, Adam Pounds

Maurice Ravel Le Tombeau de Couperin; Sir Lennox Berkeley Divertimento, Op. 18;
Adam Pounds (b. 1954) Symphony No. 3 (world première recording)

Sinfonia of London Conductor: John Wilson
Leader: John Mills

Chandos CHSA 5324

Chapeau to John Wilson and the London Sinfonia for producing another stellar recording. Such glorious music is performed with grace and elegance, from three composers whose works are interconnected: Ravel was a mentor to Lennox Berkeley, and Berkeley to Pounds.

There are numerous recordings of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin; it is a crowded field, but Wilson’s skill at finding something fresh in an interpretation is laudable. He judges tempo and sometimes challenges the listener to approach a work differently, never compromising the score, which is what makes his recordings interesting and crisp.

Le Tombeau de Couperin marked Ravel’s movement towards neoclassicism, its forms and style a re-invention of ones from the French baroque. Originally composed for solo piano, Ravel dedicated the movements of the suite to friends he had lost in the First World War. In 1919, he orchestrated four of the six movements (the version performed here). It hovers and soars exquisitely, the strings and woodwind phrasing their lines with gravitas.

Chandos’ notes remind the listener that Berkeley met Ravel a number of times in the 1920s, working as an interpreter and tour guide while Ravel was in London. Ravel advised him to study with Nadia Boulanger, which he did between 1926 and 1932. Commissioned by Sir Arthur Bliss for the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1942, the Divertimento, dedicated to Boulanger, initially received a mixed reception but has since found many supporters, and justly so. We should hear this lovely work more often. Berkeley’s orchestration captures the French spirit, and on this disc, the London Sinfonia is technically flawless as they vividly colour the four movements.

Adam Pounds studied privately with Berkeley in London during the late 1970s, and his own music has perpetuated the firm commitment of the two earlier composers to clarity and accessibility in everything they wrote. Mervyn Cooke writes that he wrote his Third Symphony in 2021 in response to the national lockdowns prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Pounds states that the piece captures the sadness, humour, determination, and defiance that everyone faced at this time—not least musicians. Scored for relatively modest orchestral forces, the work is dedicated to the Sinfonia of London and John Wilson, who gave the work its world première recording.

The opening movement has an immediate intensity that reflects different emotions and is full of power. The second, a waltz, is eloquently described by Cooke as ‘a fine contribution to the well-established tradition of unsettling danses macabres to which composers as diverse as Saint-Saëns, Britten, and Shostakovich memorably contributed'.

The third movement is dedicated to all those who lost their lives as a result of the pandemic; it is a Larghetto where the influence of Bruckner can be heard. A wonderful penetrating pulse from the strings, along with the timpani at the end, conveys the passion we feel for those who fell victim to the coronavirus. The orchestral writing is commanding with such a melodic and reflective force; for those who survived those years, the finale captures the world’s resilience. We live to fight another day. This excellently recorded disc will hopefully lead to a wider exploration of this work.