English composer Arnold Cooke enjoyed a long career. He composed his final work at age 90 and died just short of his 99th birthday in 2005. He studied with Hindemith and adopted many characteristics of his mentor’s music: its clarity and precision, and a predilection for the open intervals of the fourth and fifth. Unfairly, Cooke became regarded as ‘Hindemith-lite’, but he brought an English pastoral aspect to the neoclassical style. It is in his orchestral works, especially his six symphonies, that his music echoes the German’s later music – but Cooke found a strong, individual voice in chamber music, of which he wrote a good deal. Recordings are finally appearing, and this release by musicians from Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music is an important addition.
There have been few great piano trios in the modern era – Ravel’s, Shostakovich’s Second – and I would place Cooke’s in their august company. Written during his Navy service between 1941 and 44, it not only displays his contrapuntal and developmental skills, but cogently projects the underlying tension of the time. It is true ‘edge of your seat’ stuff in this dramatic, sinewy performance from violinist Sarah Ewing, cellist Heather Bills and pianist Harvey Davies.
The Piano Quartet (1984-49) and Quintet (1969) are mellower and less agitated, but still substantial, displaying rich, Brahmsian warmth in the textures and a jig-like, rhythmic lilt to several themes. Performances and recording quality are absolutely first rate.