One of the biggest projects of 2016 was the recording and performances of Lennox Berkeley’s Stabat Mater – a greatly neglected masterpiece by the composer from whom we take our name.
We had been intending to explore this hitherto unrecorded piece for some time, but its unusual forces (six singers and twelve players) made it difficult to programme. Eventually conductor and Berkeley devotee David Wordsworth approached us about recording it with the Marian Consort and soon an ambitious project was being planned. With the generous support of several organisations and individuals, not least the Lennox Berkeley Society, we gave performances of the work at the Spitalfields and Cheltenham festivals and the Aldeburgh Easter Weekend, and made the world première recording in the Britten Studio (pictured) at the Snape Maltings, which was released in July 2016 (produced by Paul Baxter on Delphian DCD 34180).
The recording, also including other works by Lennox and another world première – Michael Berkeley’s Touch Light, received considerable attention in the press and was in the Top 10 in the Official Specialist Classical Chart. There have been several enthusiastic reviews, with some special praise for the Berkeley Ensemble’s contribution. The recording was Editor’s Choice in Classical Music Magazine’s August 2016 edition, receiving five stars (more squares, really). Guy Weatherall wrote that the Stabat Mater, “has scarcely been heard since early, Britten-led performances, and probably never been as well done as here”. A review in the Guardian stated that, “the instrumental playing on this recording is spot on – the Berkeley Ensemble under David Wordsworth clinches the balance of chaste, plaintive and urgent”.
MusicWeb International published two highly positive reviews, and Michael Greenhalgh chose the recording as one of his Recordings of the Year. John Quinn, naming it Recording of the Month, commented that, “the score’s cause is helped by the fact that it receives a searing and expert performance. This may be the work’s debut on disc but it’s been worth the wait to hear it in a performance of such quality.” Michael Cookson declared that, “the playing of the Berkeley Ensemble is hard to fault contributing greatly to the success of the performances. This album is a definite contender for my ‘Records of the Year’ list”.
Finally, The Sunday Times included it in its 100 best records of the year, at the top of the Contemporary category.
This project is what the Berkeley Ensemble is all about: taking great neglected music and allowing it to be heard as widely as possible – by confirmed enthusiasts and hopefully by new audiences as well. It was a huge success and we are thrilled to have been a part of it.
Read our violinist Fran’s account of recording Lennox Berkeley’s Stabat Mater in Aldeburgh here.