Divine Art have already
released two good CDs of choral music
by James Cook, both of which came my
way for review:-
Both of these discs
contained music that was largely, if
not entirely, inspired by the writings
of the seventeenth-century English Puritans.
In reviewing the second of these, a
collection entitled The Way to Heaven
I commented that it would be interesting
to hear Cook addressing different themes
or, perhaps, writing in a different
genre. Thus I was pleased to receive
a CD devoted to his organ music, especially
since Iíd found Cookís occasional organ
accompaniments enhanced the (mainly
unaccompanied) choral pieces Iíd heard.
However, the disc has
not quite fulfilled my hopes. Technically
the music is assured and it seems to
be very well played by Myles Hartley.
My colleague Chris Bragg commented that
the music "never seems in a hurry
to get anywhere and in general I missed
a certain amount of direction or purpose."
I can only concur.
Thereís an example
of what I suspect Chris may have had
in mind fairly early on in the recital.
The Organ Symphony consists of
four movements. In his useful notes
James Cook describes the third movement
as "the lightest and shortest"
in the work. Since this is a symphony,
perhaps naively, Iíd expected something
along the lines of a scherzo. The movement
is indeed the briefest and itís true
to say that itís lighter than its companions
in terms of textures. But the one thing
itís not is fast. Indeed, something
of a sameness of tempo seems to pervade
the whole work. Some passages are impressive
and thereís dynamic contrast but Iím
afraid I detected little rhythmic vitality
or variety throughout the whole work.
In fact, I think itís
a failing of the music that thereís
little in the whole programme that truly
surprises the listener. By that Iím
not advocating cheap sensation or effect
for the sake of effect. However, just
to take at random two very different
masters of organ composition, Bach and
Messiaen: when I listen to their music
I often find myself thinking, as it
were, "whatís he going to do next?"
Thereís little of that here, though
the arresting opening of ĎIn Heavení,
the finale of the Organ Suite,
is a pleasing exception.
There are some livelier
passages. The aforementioned ĎIn Heavení
is one such and the first of the Two
Voluntaries is strong and vigorous.
For the most part, however, slow music
and a mood of introspection prevails.
In general Iím afraid I didnít find
the contents of this CD especially memorable.
I wonder if part of the trouble is that
all the pieces were composed in the
space of just one year, 2004. This may
have militated against variety. Certainly
I donít feel that we hear much evidence
of stylistic development.
The writings of the
Puritans once again provide the inspiration
for much of the music contained here.
I can appreciate that this is an extremely
strong facet of James Cookís musical
makeup. However, from what Iíve read
about his music in the notes accompanying
the three CDs Iíve heard, I do wonder
if heís not over-concerned with the
stimulus of this literature. With the
greatest possible respect, Iíd suggest
that if heís to develop as a composer,
he needs to be open to more influences
and to explore the possibilities of
writing in other musical genres. Of
course, it may be that thereís a good
deal of other very different music by
James Cook thatís as yet unrecorded.
If thatís the case I hope that a way
may be found to get some of this onto
CD so that a more rounded portrait of
the composer can emerge.
Iíve indicated already
that Myles Hartley plays the music very
well. The organ sounds good. Iím not
sure how large a building the chapel
of Harris Manchester College may be.
I didnít feel that the sound was unduly
constrained but once or twice I wondered
if the music might have made a stronger
impression on a bigger, more resourceful
instrument in a slightly larger acoustic.
The documentation is comprehensive and
good. It includes a full specification
of the organ.
This is a worthy disc
and admirers of James Cookís music will
want to hear it. For myself, Iím a bit
disappointed not to have heard more
evidence of a truly individual compositional
See also review
by Chris Bragg