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James COOK (b. 1966)
From Wonderland to Heaven – Music for voices, organ and harp
From A Carrollean Symphony (1986-1992)
1. Prelude [7:20]
Dyad (for organ and harp) (2006)
2. Reverie [3:14]
3. Noctambulation [13:54]
Quaternion (2003-4)
4. Quaternity [8:02]
5. Exequy [2:12]
6. Exundation [3:08]
7. Euphony [6:33]
From Seven Motets of Sacred Love [1994)*
8. A friend loveth at all times [2:05]
9. If ye love me [3:08]
10. Beloved, let us love one another [1:56]
11. If ye abide in me [0:59]
12. As the Father hath loved me [1:06]
13. Lover and friend [0:58]
From Iambic Anthems (No. 3) (1995-6)*
14. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life [4:16]
From Body of Divinity (1996-7)
15. God desires our Love [2:30]
16. Jesus Christ is all sweets and delights [1:51]
From Psalmodia Sacra (Set 3) (2005-7)
17 Make sweet melody [2:40]
18. From tune to melody [2:19]
19. The region of perfect tranquillity [2:31]
20. Those who are born from above [1:54]
21. Segullah (Treasure) [1:53]
From Dipsalma (2003-4)
22. Heavenly Geometry [2:41]
Kathryn Copeland (soprano), Elizabeth Scorah (harp), Rufus Frowde (organ)
*Voces Oxonienses/Rufus Frowde
rec. 1 August 2006, Hampton Court Palace, London (trs. 1-3 and 17-22); 27 August 2003, 26 February 2004, St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London (trs.4-7}; 15 March 1999, Merton College Chapel, Oxford (trs. 8-16)
DIVINE ARTS DIVERSIONS DDV24123 [77:13]

 

Experience Classicsonline


Like his illustrious nautical namesake, British composer James Cook promises us a voyage of discovery.

His discography points to a preoccupation with the organ – he has written nine organ symphonies – and music of a quasi-spiritual nature. It’s hard to be more specific than that, because although Cook draws on the King James Bible and Puritan texts his work doesn’t seem to be religious in the conventional sense.

So what is Mr Cook all about? In his detailed liner-notes he characterises this music as a mix of ‘fantasy and theology’. The Prelude from A Carrollean Symphony belongs firmly in the realm of fantasy, based as it is on the poem that prefaces Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. This arrangement for organ, harp and soprano is undemanding, Kathryn Copeland’s voice suitably girlish if not particularly ingratiating. Elizabeth Scorah’s harp is much too far forward but the Hampton Court Palace organ is atmospherically recorded.

The two death-obsessed pieces from Dyad – also Carroll settings – are morbidly Victorian in sentiment, reflected in music of a rather lugubrious bent. ‘Reverie’ certainly won’t frighten the horses but ‘Noctambulation’ does have a darker, vaguely menacing appeal.

Scorah’s contributions to Dyad are solid enough, although she isn’t required to do much more than embellish and underline the organ and vocal parts. As so often in this context it seems a little superfluous, rather like too much icing on a cake. And the unnatural balance is highlighted by the clumsy C major finale for jumbo-sized harp and organ. Most  unsettling.

Commenting on Exequy and Elysium (review), Dominy Clements characterised Cook’s musical style as ‘more chapel than church’, which is just as apt here. The writing is unadventurous, unvaried and stubbornly earthbound. That said there is a hypnotic, Messiaen-like quality to the four organ solos of Quaternion, played with some style by Rufus Frowde. He is the most accomplished performer here and the organ of St Jude on the Hill is thrillingly caught.

Perhaps the least successful items on this disc are the choral pieces from Seven Motets of Sacred Love and the Iambic Anthems. The amateur Voces Oxonienses sound uneven and poorly integrated, the higher voices frequently overpowering the lower ones. The writing may be partly to blame here but either way the razored trebles and the chilly Merton Chapel acoustic make this very hard work indeed. As for the two motets from Body of Divinity any ardour or yearning inherent in ‘God desires our love’ is subsumed by this lacklustre singing.

Copeland returns in Psalmodia Sacra. Her pleasing, bright soprano complements the subdued organ part in ‘Make sweet melody’ rather well. She is a little less comfortable with the solo harp in ‘From tune to melody’ and she sounds a little sharp at times – just listen to the close of ‘Those who are born from above’.

And finally Scorah gets to shine in ‘Heavenly Geometry’, the penultimate movement from Cook’s Dipsalmodia. She plays with grace and style, which makes the overinflated organ finale all the more incongruous. One senses this should be a thrilling moment but it sound much too contrived to be convincing.

That’s probably a good description of this disc as a whole. Potentially there is much that should move and excite but the music lacks originality and spark. Only in the solo organ works does Cook really show individuality and flair; as for the rest it really is very dull. The liner-notes are adequate but anyone wanting to know more about the composer will have to look elsewhere, A curious enterprise that promises much but fails to deliver.

Dan Morgan 


 


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