The Berkeley Ensemble’s debut recording Clarion Call: Music for Septet and Octet is now available for download from Resonus Classics. The recording echoes Beethoven and Schubert with 20th- and 21st-century chamber works by Charles Wood, John Casken, Howard Ferguson and Michael Berkeley.
“That damned thing! I wish it were burned” Beethoven said of his popular Septet; yet the popularity that so irked its composer ensured a steady stream of later works written for the same instrumental forces. Two such pieces, by British composers Charles Wood and Michael Berkeley, are performed on Clarion Call by the Berkeley Ensemble, in addition to works by Howard Ferguson and John Casken that add, like Schubert before them, another violin to Beethoven’s ensemble.
Wood’s regard for the music of Beethoven was well known amongst his colleagues during his studies at the Royal College of Music, so much so that the college principal drew on his knowledge during his own research. Wood’s Septet dates from 1899, and receives its premiere recording on the disc. To date, the piece has only received a handful of modern amateur performances since its premiere. The group’s viola player, Dan Shilladay described the journey to drawing out the work’s intricacies:
Without other performances or recordings to draw on, the rehearsal process is slower compared to better-known works. However, it can be more satisfying as we’re free to make decisions without precedents – it’s a lot like walking on fresh snow.
Howard Ferguson’s Octet, composed in 1933, was originally intended as a clarinet quintet, but following the advice of his former teacher R.O. Morris, Ferguson re-scored his work for the same forces as Schubert’s Octet, thus guaranteeing it a life as companion to the frequently-performed masterwork. Ferguson’s success prompted his friend and fellow composer Gerald Finzi later to comment; “I think it’s more likely that the Schubert Octet will be stuck-in to be played with yours than the other way round”.John Casken’s Blue Medusa is also scored for the performing group of Schubert’s Octet. In relation to its predecessor, however, the piece turns the instrumentation inside out, featuring a solo part for bassoon, one of Schubert’s most retiring participants. The disc’s opener, Michael Berkeley’s Clarion Call and Gallop was written especially for the group, and was premiered by them in 2013. Berkeley said of composing for the ensemble:
The Berkeley Ensemble are proving a valuable addition to the musical life of this country. By combining skill and an irrepressible enthusiasm for new and rarely played British music, the ensemble’s programmes refresh and inform. Writing for them is a joy since you know the music will come off the page with love and verve.
Throughout the disc, the ghost of Beethoven hovers in the form of the seemly arbitrary, yet endlessly adaptable grouping of clarinet, bassoon, horn and strings. The famous revolutionary would no doubt have approved of the huge palate of colours and effects wrought from his ensemble by this ingenious collection of composers and performers.
For further press information on the new release please contact:
Victoria Ford | email@example.com