This is a perceptively selected trio of British string sonatas. All the works were written within a thirteen year period and indeed the Bantock and Sacheverell Coke sonatas were almost contemporaneously composed. Both these were for the violin but the Cyril Scott sonata is for the viola.
Bantock’s last Violin Sonata is well worth getting to know. Superficially it has less of a ‘stamp’ than the earlier two, but repeated listening alerts one to its very particular, and personal, qualities. These are explored with a sense of flowing rhapsody by Rupert Marshall-Luck and Matthew Rickard. They are keen to let each phrase speak, keen too not to hurry or become too terse with Bantock’s syntax. This fluidity sets them quite apart from an earlier recording of the sonata, made two decades ago, by Suzanne Stanzeleit and Gusztáv Fenyő (United 88031: review review. The earlier two sonatas are on Dutton). The United team is of a more bustling disposition, vesting the music with a greater sense of urgency and tension, generating an intensity that the EM duo cultivates through very different means. The spacious misterioso piano harmonies of the second movement, called ‘The Dryad’, sound especially evocative in this reading from Marshall-Luck and Rickard. They take what I’d term a ‘John Ireland’ tempo - he tended to insist on properly held chords and a relaxed tempo - though it is arguably the case that Bantock’s harmonies sound the more unsettled, and even more complex, when taken at a tauter tempo. Strangely, a faster tempo also sounds the more romantic. There’s a bluff giocoso quality in the finale in which the more measured pacing conveys the jollity of the music just a bit better, and manages to lasso that lovely lyrical Largamente molto lento section more naturally.
Cyril Scott’s 1953 Viola Sonata sports an uneasy movement that marks it out. The piano is sometimes portentous, at other times supportive, but Scott invariably generates harmonically diverting material, and is a fine storyteller, allowing the narrative of each movement to unfold well, if not always very easily. Marshall-Luck’s lean alto-ish viola tone communicates well and he and Rickard are nimble and knowing in the quixotic Humoresque second movement where Scott darts between faster and slower material. I don’t find the finale as interesting but it’s well played by the duo.
In programming terms the disc moves from best-known to next best to least well-known. Thus, we end with Roger Sacheverell Coke’s 1940-42 Sonata, a full-scale four-movement work. The first movement opens quietly, and not wholly easily, with hints of folklore soon subverted into more lyrically equivocal writing. The striving violin and tolling piano - the piano writing is notably important by the way (Coke was a pianist) - marks out the first movement’s territory. The slow movement offers no true reprieve. The initial piano chording promises a kind of resolution but it’s rather the launch for more unresolved material, including a double-stopping episode and lyrical reiteration. The scherzo’s drive offers a brief, fugitive reflective passage and a ghostly hint of a baroque figure, but by the finale the music has taken on a drained feel. This Quasi una Fantasia movement seems to occupy a bleached, emptied-out landscape. Not terrifying, but devoid of true tangible belief. Shostakovich’s ways and means are very different but in some ways, emotionally speaking, Sacheverell Coke’s sonata heads the way of late Shostakovich.
The recording at Wyastone Leys is quite airy and offers a wide stage space. The notes are up to EM Record’s very high standards. Do try to listen to this disc if you have an interest in ‘mid-century’ British chamber music.
Bantock discography & review index
Editor’s Note on Roger Sacheverell Coke
COKE, Roger Sacheverell (Alfreton, Derbyshire, 20.10.1912 - Pinxton, Derbyshire, 23.10.1972)
Roger Sacheverell Coke was the only son of Langton Sacheverell Coke, an officer in the Irish Guards killed in action in the Great War when R.S. was two. He composed compulsively throughout his life and was caught after lights out composing under the bedclothes at Eton College where he received his education. After he left school at the age of eighteen he heard a record of piano music by Moiseiwitsch. This made a profound impression on Coke who was later to strike up a personal friendship with Moiseiwitsch who in turn was to nurture a desire in Coke to become a concert pianist. Coke’s debut as concert pianist came in 1932 performing one of his own works. His piano tuition was from Mabel Lander. He studied composition with Dr Frederick Staton and later with Alan Bush.
It was composition which eventually gripped and dominated his life. There were many performances of his works particularly in the provinces. He lived for many years as a semi-recluse at the family mansion at Brookhill Hall, near Alfreton. The music room at Brookhill Hall was given to him by his mother and the estate workers in 1933. This room became, in large part, his hermit's cell for much of the rest of his life. He was afflicted with mild mental disorders. In the early nineteen thirties he became a friend of Rachmaninov who exercised a considerable influence over Coke's work. Following Rachmaninov's death Coke gave a memorial concert at the Hall at which he performed together with his regular collaborator of those years, Barbara Welby, a descendant of Jenny Lind and a fine amateur singer and pianist. Brookhill became a centre for local music-making, visited by musicians and others including Edith Sitwell. He founded the Brookhill Symphony Orchestra in 1940. The orchestra played a number of his own works and neglected works by other composers. These included performances of Bruckner symphonies 4 and 6, Mahler 4 and Rachmaninov 2. He engaged in heated correspondence in the columns of Musical Opinion contending the virtues of Rachmaninov's symphonies. Coke gave recitals at the Wigmore Hall. He was the soloist in the broadcast premiere of his own third piano concerto with the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra conducted by Richard Austin in 1939. Another successful work performed before the outbreak of the War was the Lotos Eaters. Hugo Meynell referred to the Concerto's thick but never overloaded scoring which abounds in full warm writing for the solo writing. Meynell remarked on the intensely and uninhibited lyrical quality of the music and its affinity with Rachmaninov and the romantic Russian school. His most ambitious work was the two hour opera on Shelley's The Cenci. He created Beatrice's part with Barbara Welby in mind. It was performed at the Scala Theatre, London.
After this he was afflicted with the mental disorder already referred to and retired from the public gaze. He had various of his works published at his own expense and distributed to potential performers. No performances followed. Brookhill began to decay around Coke as he became more and more of a hermit. He sold family possessions including fine porcelain made on the family estate in the late eighteenth century. The decline seemed absolute and irreversible but in 1970 a concert at Abbotsholme School, Staffordshire marked a turning point. At the suggestion of Gordon Clark, School Director of Music, Moura Lympany played two of Coke's Preludes at the concert. Following the concert other concerts followed with articles and as a result of a meeting with the flautist Christopher Hyde Smith and his wife, Marisa Robles a commission for a trio for flute, harp and viola was forthcoming. The BBC commissioned a string quartet. Even Brookhill enjoyed a renaissance, with the local council refurbishing the house as a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts. However Coke's chain-smoking (100 cigarettes a day) had fatally undermined his health and prevented the completion of the commissions. It was while cycling into the village to buy a packet of cigarettes that he died. He was found at the side of the road and never regained consciousness. His scores of which there is a considerable quantity, and many of the articles from his music room were removed to the new local arts centre at Alfreton Hall. Extensive collections of MS material are held by Nottingham University Library, the Derbyshire Record Office, Matlock and Chesterfield Public Library. Colin Mason who contributed the essay in the fifth edition of Grove, wrote: "His music, which reflects his sympathies for Mahler, Bruckner and Rachmaninov, is written with considerable accomplishment in a mainly pre-Debussy idiom". While Coke's overriding affection for Rachmaninov's music has been mentioned he also felt a special empathy for Sibelius and Bax.
To the best of my knowledge before this EM disc there were no commercial recordings of his music. The only piece which I have heard is the Cello Sonata No 2. This was broadcast some time ago by Alexander Baillie and Piers Lane. The style calls to mind both Medtner and Rachmaninov. The writing is densely romantic for much of the time although this is lightened by a number of passages of elfin magic.
I wonder if there is anyone else who remembers performances of other pieces by Coke or who has recordings. I hope that someone might be prepared to share them. I for one would be delighted to hear the vocal concertos and perhaps the Third Piano Concerto.
Opera The Cenci Op. 41 (1940-41 and 1950 three acts, libretto by the composer after Shelley, Prelude only at RAF charity concert Jan 1941 Brookhill SO conducted by composer; Scala Theatre, London 5.11.1959 conducted by Eugene Goossens, For Richard Austin);
Symphony Symphony No. 1 (early thirties, broadcast by BBC, withdrawn); Symphony No. 2 in G minor Op. 22 (1936-38 BBC broadcast, 32'); Symphony No. 3 Op. 56 (1948/58, 30');
Concerto Piano Concerto No.1 (withdrawn); Piano Concerto No. 2 in E minor (1933, withdrawn, BBC broadcast and composer / Torquay Municipal Orchestra / Ernest Goss, Pavilion, Torquay, 16.11.1933 - dedicated to Mabel Lander "with affection and admiration." - movements: 1. Fantasie 2. Romance 3. Caprice); Vocal Concerto No. 1 for soprano and orchestra Op. 25 (1934 words from Tennyson's The Princess, Barbara Welby - the dedicatee / Brookhill SO / composer, Nottingham, 25.10.1942, 14'); Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat Op. 30 (1938, Coke or Charles Lynch / Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra / Richard Austin, BBC broadcast 3.8.1939; charity concert for RAF Jan 1941, composer/Brookhill SO; composer / Torquay Municipal Orchestra / Goss, Pavilion Torquay, 23.10.1941; dedicated to Charles Lynch, movements: 1. Moderato, 2. Maestoso, 3. Quasi Variazione, 4. Finale, 30'); Poem for cello, piano and small orchestra Op. 36 (1939/41); Piano Concerto No. 4 in C sharp minor Op. 38 (1940, 30'); Vocal Concerto No. 2 for soprano and orchestra Op. 47 (1942, words from Barbara Welby's A Winter's Dawn, in version with piano accomp. Barbara Weldon / composer, Pinxton, 31.5.1942, 18'); Piano Concerto No. 5 in D minor Op. 57 The Orton (1947/50); Piano Concerto No. 6 in C minor Op. 63 (1951);
Orchestra Three Pieces for string orchestra Op. 5 (1933, BBC broadcast); Prelude to The Cenci Op. 41 (1940); Symphonic Poem No. 1, The Lotos Eaters Op. 45 (1941, Brookhill SO, composer, Nottingham, 1.10.1942 FP?, Brookhill SO / composer. 25.10.1942); Symphonic Poem No. 2, Elegiac Ballade Op. 51 (1942-3); Symphonic Poem No. 3, Dorian Gray Op. 53 (1943/50); Symphonic Poem No. 4 on a painting by Corot;
Chamber Cello Sonata No. 1 in D minor Op. 24 (1935); Cello Sonata No. 2 in C major Op. 29 (1938, BBC broadcast, dedicated to Alan Morton); Elegiac Trio in C minor for piano, violin and cello Op. 32 (1938-9); Sacred Concerto in A minor for soprano, cello, piano and oboe Op. 35 (1939); Cello Sonata No. 3 in A minor Op. 44 (1941, Alan Morton / composer, Pinxton, 27.5.1942); Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor Op. 46 (1940/42, Raymond Mosley - dedicatee / composer, Nottingham, 31.1.1943); Clarinet Sonata in C major Op. 48 (1942/50); Trio in G for flute, viola and piano, Ortina Op. 59 (1948-9); Viola Sonata in C minor Op. 60 (1948/49); Violin Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 55 (1943/50); String Quartet Op. 66; Piano Trio No 2;
Song Elegy for a Dead Musician for contralto, violin and orchestra Op. 16 (1934, BBC broadcast); Six Songs for soprano or tenor Op. 19 (1935, BBC broadcast); Two Songs for soprano or tenor Op. 20 (1935); Song for soprano or tenor Op. 31 (1939); Six Songs for soprano or tenor Op. 39 (1939 words Humbert Wolfe); Six Songs for contralto or bass Op. 40 (1939 words Humbert Wolfe); Six Songs for contralto or bass Op. 42 (1941 words Humbert Wolfe); Eight Songs for soprano or tenor Op. 43 (1941 words from Beaumont and Fletcher plays); Six Songs for contralto or bass Op. 49 (1942 words Oscar Wilde); Four Songs for soprano or tenor Op. 50 (1943); Rhymes and Roundelays, fourteen songs for high voice Op. 54 (1948); Thirty Songs for low voice Op. 58 (1948 words Burns); Six Songs for high voice Op. 67 (1954 words Emily Bronte); Six Songs Op. 70 for high voice (1956 words Tagore); Six Songs for high voice Op. 71 (1956 words Tagore); Six Songs for high voice Op. 72 (1957 words Walter de la Mare);
Piano Sonata No. 1 in D major Op. 12 (1935, composer, Brookhill Hall, 1943); Variations and Fugue in D minor Op. 21 (1935); Sonata No. 2 in G Op. 26 (1936); Ballade in C major Op. 27 (1936); Fantasie (composer, 15.11.1933, Torquay Pavilion); Berceuse (1936); two Inventions and Polichinelle (1936); Sonata No. 3 in A minor Op. 28 (1937); Twenty Four Preludes Opp. 33/34 (1938, Book 1 and 1941, Book 2, six Preludes performed by composer at Torquay Pavilion, 23.10.1941; also by composer at Manchester Midday Concerts; Book 2, composer, Nottingham, 31.5.1942, all dedicated to his mother); Fifteen Variations and Finale in C minor Op. 37 (1939); Variations in G minor on Rachmaninov's Song, A Soldier's Wife Op. 52 (1943); Variations in B flat on Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes Op. 61 (1949); Variations in C sharp minor Op. 73 (1957-8).
Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. II, 5th Edition, p. 367, article by Colin Mason;
Eric Blom, Everyman's Dictionary of Music, 1975, p. 127;
Hugo Meynell: Roger Sacheverell Coke - A Derbyshire Composer and His Music, Derbyshire Countryside, April/May 1957;
Robert Innes-Smith: Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1975) - obituary.
Work-List published by Coke - complete to January 1959.
Rosemary Williamson, Leverhulme Research Fellow, Nottingham University, Handlist - University Collection - Lady Barbara Welby.
Note: The articles and worklist mentioned above can be examined at the BMIC. Many thanks to Rosemary Williamson for her generous help in providing her handlist and some valuable background.