What made Arnold
somewhat different from some of his contemporaries is that he did
not study composition completely in England. Instead he looked to the
Continent and specifically to Paul Hindemith between the wars. He also came
under the influence of another progressive, Edward Dent who had been Cooke's
tutor at Cambridge.
There have been times when listening to Cooke's music that I feel I could
be listening to Hindemith so strong was the shadow cast. The Violin
's outer movements are typical: driving rhythm and
counterpoint, always searching and chromatic in its melodic shapes but
ultimately tonal. The Cooke Third Symphony recorded in the 1970s on Lyrita
introduced me to Cooke's music and I have often come
back to that work for sheer pleasure. Bearing that in mind it may seem
inappropriate to have on the CD cover a scene of a rural English idyll, the
remotely set church in the hamlet of Horsmonden in the heart of Kent.
However on listening to the Violin Sonata's lyrical slow movement one
immediately hears, an English voice. In any event, Cooke lived in that part
of Kent for the last years of his long life. One of his final works was for
the organ at Tudeley church in 1989. This is the church where you can see
the famous Chagall windows - In the 1960s John McCabe was inspired to write
an orchestral work about them.
It's tempting on first acquaintance with Cooke's allegros to wonder if
there isn't an element of note-spinning as there can be with Hindemith. To a
certain extent it's the 'fear', if I can put it that way, of
'gebrauchsmusik'- the translation of which is 'needed music'. Developing
that further, John Talbot in his notes explains that this manifests itself
in music which is "capable of performance by both a talented amateur as well
as a professional". Whilst that may be true, the amateurs who might tackle
these sonatas will have to be especially talented. Cooke's allegros can be
technically demanding but have, I feel, more direction than those by
Hindemith and a clearer sense of form. You can hear this in the opening
movement of the Violin Sonata as well as that stronger melodic sense.
The sonata was commissioned and first played by Rosemary Rapaport, a
life-long friend of the composer, who writes a touching 'Personal
Reminiscence' in the CD booklet.
The Viola Sonata
, which is from the period when Cooke was
working in Manchester, may well date from fifteen years earlier but the
style and language is consistent. The plan of the work is very similar with
a much longer slow, middle movement. The sinewy, wiry melodic lines are just
as in the later works. There is no doubt that the music has energy and at
times passion, especially in the central moments of the second movement but
it is difficult to find anything which is really memorable about this work
even after hearing it a few times. It's interesting nevertheless to
note that in the 1930s the viola was emerging from its 'Cinderella' phase
and that in no small part was due Hindemith's playing of the
instrument and the commissioning of many new works.
The last work here is the Second Cello Sonata
. This has
all the fingerprints of Cooke's later style as heard in the Third Symphony.
First it has abundant energy, amazing for a composer then in this
mid-seventies. This is manifest not only in its outer Allegro movements but
also in a bounding Scherzo in compound time now added as a third movement.
Secondly, we have, right from the start, the upwardly-striving dotted
rhythms so typical of him and of Hindemith here followed by a string of
semiquavers. The second movement is a Lento but it never settles and is
always moving forward. The finale is determinedly contrapuntal. Of the three
works this is one that most hits the spot for me. Raphael Wallfisch gave it
its first public performance in the composer's memorial concert in 2006.
Clearly he knows his way around its awkward corners. As does, in all of
these sonatas, the much missed Raphael Terroni who was such a supporter of
British Music. He always made sure that he was the servant of the notes. He
is complemented by the two younger musicians Susanne Stanzeleit and Morgan
Goff, who, one assumes, were coming upon this music for the first time and
who tackle it so convincingly.
This CD was originally issued by the British Music Society
and it's good to see an increasing
number of their many discs of rare British works now being made available
through Naxos. The excellent notes are by John Talbot as well as Rosemary
Rapaport and they throw much insight on the composer with their fascinating
biographical information. Little however is said about the music of the
three sonatas themselves. Perhaps that's for the best as without undue
analysis the music is allowed to speak for itself.