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Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)
Violin Sonata No.1 in G (1939) [15:35]
Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor (1951) [22:18]
Sonata for solo violin (1969) [16:24]
Duo for violin and viola (1934-35) [16:40]
The Pleyel Ensemble
rec. 2016/17, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK
MPR 103 [71:21]

The especially good news for admirers of Arnold Cooke in particular and British chamber music in general is that with the exception of the Second Sonata, which is available on Naxos all the pieces here are heard in world premičre recordings. That Cooke has still not garnered more recordings may have something to do with his reputation as a flinty Hindemithian. But though there are, from time to time, inescapable reminders of his teacher one of the most consistently rewarding things about this disc is to appreciate quite how tied to the British tradition Cooke was and how deeply he drew on its inspirations.

That’s certainly the case in the First Sonata, composed in 1939 for one of the best British violinists of his generation, Thomas Matthews, who should have made many more recordings than the two 78rpm sonata sets that he achieved. This crisp three-movement sonata is full of felicitous folkloric seams, the fiddle flying lyrically and acrobatically, and terser contrasts only intensifying the element of aerial freedom. The central movement is a pastoral with an athletic scherzo appended, returning to the Elysian feel of the pastoralism, whilst the finale is easy-going and full of charm with even a certain element of whistling insouciance. There’s everything to like about this work.

The Second Sonata followed after the War, in 1951. It’s not too far a stretch stylistically and expressively between the two works, and the sheer giocoso element in the first movement is richly appealing. The con moto indication in the slow movement – well observed in this performance – ensures that its pastoral elements are vividly felt and alive and I would defy you not to feel that this sits in the lineage of Howells’ or Ireland’s sonatas. And even when Cooke reaches for a fugato in the finale, it’s not pawkily done, rather part of a witty and even – whisper it quietly – late-Romantic sensibility.

The Duo for violin and viola was composed in 1934-35 and first performed by David Carl Taylor and Watson Forbes in 1937. The contrapuntalism is what I’d term playfully rigorous, the ensemble splendidly conceived, and played with a fine awareness of the necessities for give and take in a work of this kind. The final work, and the most recent, is the Sonata for solo violin of 1969, commissioned by Alun Hoddinott for the 1970 Cardiff Festival of Twentieth Century Music. Pianist Harvey Davies’ excellent notes address the question of influence here, deciding that the primary influence is Hindemith rather than Bartók. This is a more intense and punchy work than the sonatas, its interplay tautly but astutely delineated. There are some daringly drawn dynamics in the Lento, some pizzicati too and the finale is fast, furious, and played with resinous bravery.

The three members drawn from the Pleyel Ensemble make the best possible case for these works and have been finely recorded in to the bargain. You wouldn’t need to listen much to hear that Cooke’s violin works are both appealing and successful.

Jonathan Woolf

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