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