Lyrita – Arnold Cooke

0 of 5 stars

Concerto in D for string orchestra
Symphony No.1
Jabez and the Devil – Suite

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Nicholas Braithwaite

Jabez and the Devil recorded 7 January 1974 in Kingsway Hall, London; Concerto recorded 6 February 1988 in Henry Wood Hall, London; Symphony recorded 1 February 1989 in Watford Town Hall

Reviewed by: David Wordsworth

Reviewed: May 2007
Duration: 71 minutes

Malcolm MacDonald in his informative booklet note tells us that Havergal Brian, no less, hailed Arnold Cooke (1906-2005) as one of the most promising British composers of his time. That was in 1936. The following 70 years have not been so kind to the reputation of either composer.

Many of Cooke’s works have remain unperformed, most unrecorded and, with one or two exceptions, never heard in the concert hall. Situations like this, though of course hardly a rare event in the history of music, might lead one to ponder how any creative artist deals with near total neglect and indifference. My one meeting with Arnold Cooke in the late 1980s (by which time he was himself an octogenarian), introduced me to a shy, unassuming man whom one could never imagine attempting to hog even the tiny amount of lime-light that was offered to him.

However, as much of the music on this Lyrita release reveals, here was a serious craftsman who had a good deal to say and who continued to composer well into his 90s despite decades of being virtually ignored. He died in 2005, just missing his centenary year.

Only one work, a suite from Cooke’s ballet Jabez and the Devil, has been issued before, on a Lyrita LP. It beggars belief to read that the Concerto and Symphony were recorded in 1988 and 1989 respectively and that the composer, despite living for well over a decade after the sessions, did not see the recording released. We will probably never know the real reasons for why so many Lyrita recordings have been hidden away for so long, despite the fact that so much public money was put into many of them.

Still, some of Cooke’s music is now accessible, so let us at least be grateful for that. Cooke’s was acknowledged as the most prominent English pupil of Paul Hindemith (Cooke studied in Berlin between 1929-32) and there is a good deal of the German composer’s vigorous neo-classicism in the Concerto for Strings. The dreaded word ‘Gebrauchmusik’ (functional music) comes to mind on a number of occasions, but Cooke also shows in the heart-felt slow movement, with its long winding melody, that whilst managing to be totally unsentimental, his music has a real depth of feeling. He seems good at slow movements – the one in the Symphony is a warm, rather touching elegy enjoying careful, elegant pacing and a striking climax. The symphony itself is a strong work full of good ideas in a traditional four-movement design; Boult conducted its premiere in 1949.

Jabez and the Devil was commissioned by the Royal Ballet and premiered at Covent Garden in 1961. The Suite, as one might expect, is made up of a series of short character pieces, including a real ballet ‘Waltz’ and a ‘Percussion Dance’. Expertly scored, but perhaps a little wooden and foursquare, especially if one imagines what composers like Walton or Lambert might have made of the subject matter.

All the works here are played with real fire and commitment – performances that the composer would have surely been delighted with. A warmly recommended release and the Symphony is a real discovery.

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