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Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)
Symphony No.4 in E-Flat (1974)  [27.12]
Symphony No.5 in G (1979) [32:32]*
BBC Symphony Orchestra/ John Pritchard
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra / Bernard Keeffe*
rec. live, 15 January 1975, Royal Festival Hall,
BBC Broadcast. First performance
17 July 1981, venue not given, BBC Broadcast *
Mono ADD
LYRITA REAM1123 [59.44]

The English composer Arnold Cooke was born in 1906 in Gomersal, Yorkshire, and showed musical promise from an early age. He started the piano at seven, and composing a year later. At Repton School his versatility led him to embrace piano, cello and organ. At Cambridge he read music with Edward J. Dent, the British writer on music, then went on to Berlin to study with Paul Hindemith. Cooke later taught composition himself at Manchester College of Music 1933-1938, before moving to London. After spending some time in the Royal Navy during the war, he became Professor of Harmony, Counterpoint and Composition at Trinity College of Music from 1947 until 1978 when he retired. He was a founder member of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain (1945). He died at the age of ninety-eight in 2005. His compositions include six symphonies, several concertos, five string quartets and a variety of chamber works. He also made forays into ballet (Jabez and the Devil (1961)) and opera. He wrote two operas: Mary Barton (completed 1954) after the novel by Mrs. Gaskell and The Invisible Duke (1976).

Cooke said of his music that it ‘is mainly based on traditional procedures and principles......’. He steered clear of many contemporary trends such as serialism, aleatoricism, minimalism and electronic music. Further information on the man and his music can be gleaned from his website here on MusicWeb.

The Symphony No. 4 was a Royal Philharmonic Society commission and was completed in 1974. The performance we have here, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under John Prichard dated 15 January 1975, has added significance in that it was the premiere. Scored for a moderately sized orchestra, the work is in four movements. The first movement’s opening theme has a certain bombast but soon launches into an energetic and spirited Allegro assai. As it progresses, it explores more lyrical avenues. The beautiful Poco lento slow movement is heavily reliant on the woodwind section. The influence of Hindemith can be detected in the angst-ridden, dark and sombre-laden episodes which appear later in the movement. By stark contrast, the Scherzo relies on exuberance and extroversion, with declamatory brass interjections being a feature. A horn melody ushers in the finale. An imposing march theme makes it’s presence felt, and there is generally an air of optimism. The work ends optimistically. John Prichard and his players give a thrilling performance, and the respectable quality of the broadcast showcases the expert orchestration to effect. Applause is retained.

It was another four years before Cooke embarked on his next symphonic project. The Symphony No. 5 dates from 1978-1979 and was premiered in January 1981 in Manchester by the same forces under Bernard Keefe that recorded this radio broadcast in July of the same year. Brass chords, which act as a sort of fanfare, are a call to arms, setting in motion a purposeful Allegro. There’s a constant sensation of forward momentum, with persistent rhythms driving the music forward. The Lento is lyrical and generous with it’s melodies, the woodwinds playing a prominent role. Paul Conway, in his accompanying notes, aptly describes the underlying mood as ‘open-air freshness’, yet there are also more darker and troubled undertones. An energetic and boisterous Scherzo follows. A brass fanfare heralds in the resolute finale. Once again the sound quality of the recording is acceptable for its provenance, and Bernard Keeffe inspires the BBC players to give a compelling performance of rhetorical eloquence and emotional urgency.

This is another release by the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust’s transfer programme, begun in 2014, of the Richard Itter Archive. From 1952 until 1996 Itter, the founder of Lyrita, recorded BBC transmissions using professional state-of-the-art disc and tape recorders. These he meticulously documented to form an archive consisting of Proms, premieres, operas, symphonies and chamber music, which eventually totaled around 1500 items.

Cooke’s First and Third Symphonies have already been released by Lyrita. Apparently his Sixth Symphony, completed in 1984 has, to this day, never been performed. Paul Conway has provided the excellent accompanying annotations. My first encounter with this composer has left me wanting to explore further his fine compositional legacy.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Brian Wilson



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