The English composer and pianist Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972) – maybe his surname is pronounced “Cook” just like Peter Coke, the superb BBC Radio Paul Temple, still sleuthing the airwaves – here enters Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series, a late entrant at No.73. At least I don’t think Hyperion has recorded his music before: there are six Piano Concertos and three Symphonies from him, independently wealthy enough to pay for publications and performances, and an Old Etonian, and he suffered badly from depression, exacerbated by hostile reviews.
I am pleased then that he is out of my reach, for I find little to get enthusiastic about. Liszt and Rachmaninov are sort of in Coke’s musical picture, if out of focus, and the opening of Concerto No.3 (1938) is a bit Warsaw Concerto, ish (although Coke predates Richard Addinsell’s Dangerous Moonlight contribution), certainly Romantic without going all the way. The slow movement blossoms somewhat before breaking into a mundane trot, then a Palm Court violin solo turns up, and a lilt beckons – but really it’s stop-start and stilted. The Finale doesn’t travel either and isn’t very interesting while it stands still. Two years on, No.4’s first movement, like the final one of its predecessor, is marked Moderato maestoso, and is similarly undistinguished and overblown. The following Andante has a nice melody, but it gets lost in Coke’s failed attempt at profundity, and if the opening measures of the last movement promise some excitement, it doesn’t happen, for Coke gets stuck in another rut and is not getting out of it through orchestral force. Only the middle movement, Andante piacevole, of Concerto No.5 (1950) survives – “the other movements are presumed lost or never written” (Hyperion's annotation) – and is the best thing here if only fairly intriguing.
Please note that the absence of stars doesn’t mean none; it means I haven’t a clue how many to give. It’s five for the performers for battling through this stuff (presumably a labour of love for Simon Callaghan given he has prepared the scores and parts as necessary, although the piano-writing comes across as ungrateful despite it being Coke's own instrument), four for the sound – piano well-captured, orchestra a little opaque, if not when the brass is to the fore – and there is a strong recommendation for curiosity value, and you have only my opinion on the music; you may well react differently. These are all first recordings.