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The Cooke Book

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A thread for all things Arnold Cooke (1906–2005). Taking bets on how many posts it will take to die ;D

Anyway, Cooke wrote in what seems to have been the lingua franca of European classical music in the mid-century - a kind of Romantic-tinged neoclassicism. The forms are tightly controlled, but unlike Stravinsky, they are not brief, often quite broad canvases (Holmboe may be one of the more well-known proponents of this style) allowing for a more emotional impact rather than Stravinsky's ice bath. This style was highly influenced by Hindemith, whom Cooke studied with, and as a result his music is not stereotypically English sounding - and is all the better for it. Anybody familiar with adventure film scores of the 50s-70s will recognise strains of this style.

Notable CDs:

As you can see, most of what is available are simply scraps on multi-composer compilations, which makes experiencing an overview of the composer difficult. I have only heard three of these CDs so far. On the plus side, the music he is coupled with tends to be very good as well - so, for example, I found the Hyperion clarinet quintets disc very enjoyable due to the high quality of all the music programmed.

The three major CDs I place at the top due to their quality and the large amount of Cooke's music featured on them. The disc with the 3rd on may be a shared programme, but it is almost worth the price just for that one piece, which is just riproaring fun. The Brian pieces make a more than pleasant "bonus", both being first-rate compositions and well-recorded (rare for this composer).

The Cooke-exclusive Lyrita disc is a no-brainer introduction to the composer. The concerto for string orchestra is stunning, with a surprisingly direct opening movement which is almost poppish in its wonderfully simple and yet rousing modifications of the theme. It's a good example of both Cooke's intentionally limited palette for the sake of clarity, but also his life-affirming style which tends to leave you smiling. The 1st symphony is superb, but as it is less familiar to me than the 3rd - which I have been listening to many times over the past 6 months or so - I don't rank it quite up with that work just yet. The "filler" on this disc is a suite from an opera which is a phantasmagorical series of orchestral dances, and a great counter-balance to the weight of the "serious" 1st symphony programmed in the middle of the disc.

The Hyperion discs I put on the second tier, because while they do not have much Cooke included, the programmes are very attractive and they are all re-releases on the label's budget series. I can fully recommend the clarinet quintets disc, and intend to buy the other two asap. As for the other porpourri of discs? A mystery to me. A potentially expensive mystery...

The decider: do you like Hindemith, Arnold, Walton and similar composers? Do you wonder what something of a stylistic hybrid of these might sound like? Try him!

Well, here's one response anyway! This thread has encouraged me to listen to my two Arnold Cooke CDs (the Lyritas). The style reminds me of Lennox Berkeley (a composer I admire), Bliss, Rawsthorne as well as Hindemith. There is a whif of the 'Cheltenham symphony' about some of the music (ie mid 20th century symphonies performed at the annual Cheltenham Festival, which tended to be worthy, well-constructed and ultimately unmemorable - this is of course a gross generalisation and there were very important exceptions, like Stanley Bate's Third Symphony - a terrific work). Having said this I really enjoyed Cooke's Third Symphony - the slow movement in particular - the moving end of which briefly brings to mind Copland. My other favourite piece was the very enjoyable 'Jabez and the Devil', which I immediately wanted to play again. The Lyrita Brian release was delayed as they couldn't find a suitable coupling - eventually they chose Cooke's Third Symphony, which has nothing in common with Havergal Brian, although Brian thought very highly of Cooke's music.  I will certainly be returning to Symphony No 3 and the Jabez Suite.

Yay! It was the slow movement of the third that sold me too. It was as if suddenly neoclassical music had gained an emotionality to it that I hadn't heard before.

A vote for the wonderful Lyrita recordings! I came to enjoy Cooke through the 3rd, which accompanied the Brian Symphonies that were the main reason for buying the disc. But the Cooke convinced me to explore further and get the other Lyrita disc. I quite enjoy the well written Concerto in D for Strings.

I will have to explore some of the chamber works and the clarinet concerto.


--- Quote from: Lethe on March 21, 2010, 09:31:10 AM ---Yay! It was the slow movement of the third that sold me too. It was as if suddenly neoclassical music had gained an emotionality to it that I hadn't heard before.

--- End quote ---

Yes, that is a really good way of putting it - my response exactly.


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