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Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)
Concerto in D for string orchestra (1948) [16:07]
Symphony No. 1 (1947) [36:40]
Jabez and the Devil - Suite (1959) [18:02]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. 1974, 1988, 1989. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.203 [70:53]



Two of these three recordings are newly released. The odd man out is Jabez and the Devil, the 1959 ballet suite, which was released on vinyl on Lyrita SRCS78 back in 1974. The Symphony was recorded in 1989 and the Concerto in D the year before but they’ve been resolutely unreleased ever since and thus make a very welcome if blinking-into-the-light appearance all these years later.
 
The Concerto was written in 1948 and is cast in three movements. Its neo-classicism is wonderfully vibrant and undogmatic, loose-limbed and exciting. There’s a strong role for solo violin and witty roles also for the other string principals – with a democratic generosity that does Cooke honour. There’s plenty of badinage in this kind of writing and certainly too a nod in the direction of Stravinsky and principally Hindemith. The cool dark grain of the slow movement is lit by austere candlelight but the beauty of the writing is never obscured. Similarly the high-spirited finale is energetic and propulsive. It brings to a close a work of exuberance and warm generosity.
 
The First Symphony predates the Concerto by a year. For a few disconcerting seconds it feints toward pastoral but this is utterly deceptive because the influence of Hindemith asserts itself strongly. The brass is mordant, the strings fly high and the tension generated holds the whole thing on a tight rein. The scherzo is unusually attractive and urgent, led pungently and once more wittily by the winds. The strings turn ironic and the brass proves fulsome, with a strong role for the first trumpet.  Noble gravity announces the slow movement with its reserved eloquence coming through powerfully in this performance as well as some stalking baroque figures in the string section.  We end with an affirmative, brisk and avuncular finale and Cooke is keen and successful in infusing colour and rhythmic variety into the writing. 
 
The suite consists of some varied and engaging dances – variously devilish, rustic and even off-kilter with wicked Saint-Saëns moments in the Fiddle Polka and some cackling spit, abetted by cracking brass elsewhere. Hear the Stravinskian echoes in the Percussion Dance as well.
 
To the old and the new a real welcome. This Cooke triptych has plenty of variety and vitality and is splendidly played and recorded and notated. Does Cooke have an austere profile these days?  Assuredly not if you listen to these works.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 
see other reviews by John France and Rob Barnett

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