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Arnold Atkinson COOKE (1906-2005)
Symphony No.4 in E flat (1974) [27:10]
Symphony No.5 in G (1979) [32:34]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/John Pritchard (4)
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Keeffe (5)
rec. live Royal Festival Hall, London, BBC Broadcast, 15 January 1975. First performance. ADD mono (4)
BBC Broadcast, 17 July 1981. ADD mono (5)
LYRITA REAM.1123 [59:44]

Reviewed as download from emusic.com (mp3, NO booklet).  Information and rear insert from wyastone.co.uk.

Thanks to Lyrita we now have recordings of four of Arnold Cooke’s six symphonies:
- Symphony No.1 with Concerto in D for String Orchestra and Jabez and the Devil Suite: LPO/Nicholas Braithwaite LYRITA SRCD.203 reviewreviewreview
- Symphony No.3 in D with Havergal Brian Symphonies Nos. 6 and 16: LPO/Nicholas Braithwaite LYRITA SRCD.295: Recording of the Month – reviewreviewDownload News October 2009

With his Clarinet Concerto and Clarinet Sonata from Chandos (CHAN10891 and CHAN10758 – review – respectively), his chamber music from British Music Society, Naxos, Dutton, Hyperion, Meridian, Sanctus, Divine Art, Mark Records, Clarinet Classics and Campion and his organ music from Priory, Cooke now has quite a strong representation in the catalogue.  Now I hope that someone will give us a recording of his two remaining symphonies, the Second (1963) and Sixth (1984), the latter of which has apparently not yet even been performed.  You’ll find slightly outdated information from http://www.musicweb-international.com/cooke/

While the earlier Lyrita releases were studio recordings, the new album continues their very welcome series of releases of off-air recordings made by their founder, Richard Itter.

You may fear that symphonies composed in the 1970s will be filled with all sorts of avant-garde features then in vogue – serialism, aleatoricism, minimalism, musique concrète and electronic music – but Cooke eschewed these with, in his own words ‘music … mainly based on traditional procedures and principles [with no] particular theories of composition, just a natural inclination for it’. 

That doesn’t mean that it’s at all stick-in-the-mud and unchallenging, merely that the challenges are such that someone like myself can cope with them.  For me that ne plus ultra is the difference between Messiaen, whom I love, and his pupil Boulez.  Despite having tried Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maître and Pli selon Pli again since his recent death, it’s a boundary that I just cannot cross.  Cooke’s music is on the right side of it.

The publicity material refers to a review of the broadcast of the Fourth comparing it with Bruckner.  It certainly achieves a similar monumentality to Bruckner’s Fourth, the Romantic, in half the time span, but I didn’t find the comparison apt in other respects.  This is music sui generis, though that earlier Lyrita coupling of Cooke and Havergal Brian is apt and there’s more than a hint in his music to remind us that he studied with Hindemith in Berlin: the finale of the fifth symphony is a case in point.

Keen to hear this, I downloaded it as soon as it appeared on emusic.com; it’s available for subscribers to download in 320 kb/s mp3 for just £3.36, but without the booklet.  For that you will need to obtain the CD, obtainable along with all Lyrita recordings at keen prices from MusicWeb-International – follow the link above.  The mono recordings are good for their time, at least as good as I recall I was getting with a decent FM tuner and a Ferrograph reel-to-reel recorder.  That means that they are a touch drier than you would expect for commercial studio recordings of the period but very tolerable.  The Fifth is noticeably fuller sounding than the Fourth.  The mp3, like all emusic.com’s recent output, is at the highest bit-rate for that format but I imagine that the CDs sound better still.  Those who dislike applause will be pleased to hear that it’s very quickly faded out.

If you would like to sample first, subscribers with access to Qobuz will find it there.  It’s also available from Qobuz for download in lossless sound but still without the booklet, for which you need the CD. 

Where next if you are on a voyage of discovery of Cooke’s music?  I recommend the three string sonatas (for violin, viola and cello) on British Music or the Naxos reissue of that recording (8.571362) which I described in Download News 2014/11 as charming and enjoyable, though the music doesn’t seem to ‘go’ anywhere by comparison with the stronger meat of the symphonies.  Meanwhile full marks to Lyrita for filling two gaps in the catalogue with yet another very valuable release.

Brian Wilson



 

 




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