COKE The Romantic Piano Concerto, Vol 73
The English composer Roger Sacheverell Coke (pronounced ‘Cook’) was born in 1912 and died in 1972. With dates like this you might think that he and his music would fall way outside the period we normally associate with the era of the Romantic piano concerto. But from the first bar of his Piano Concerto No 3, composed in 1938, we are in the world of Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, Charles Williams’s The Dream of Olwen, Reynell Wreford’s The Last Rhapsody and the myriad other quasi-Rachmaninov pieces of the period. Indeed, Coke’s first movement could have been lifted straight from the soundtrack of some black-and-white drama with Greer Garson or Robert Donat, strong on melody and declamatory octaves, short on development and individuality.
Rachmaninov is the strongest influence (the two men became friends, the Russian visiting Coke’s ancestral pile in Derbyshire and accepting the dedication of Coke’s Second Symphony), though one notices that throughout the seven movements on this disc, there is in the solo writing very little of the brilliant and effective passagework so beloved of the older composer, or of comparably memorable material.
The Piano Concerto No 4, as Coke himself affirmed, is ‘far more complex and difficult, but at the same time, more personal, and perhaps less genial, in its expression’. Tortured and relentlessly grim might be other descriptions. It was composed in 1940, dedicated to Eileen Joyce and first performed with Coke as soloist at an Anglo-Russian concert conducted by Trevor Harvey. Booklet writer Rupert Ridgewell rightly observes that ‘the musical syntax is not entirely straightforward, with an underlying ambivalence that manifests itself in moments of tension and fragmentation, expressed through a rich palette of orchestral texture’. Hats off to Simon Callaghan, whose earlier pioneering disc of Coke’s solo piano music (Somm, 8/15) was rightly warmly and widely praised. He throws himself into the concerto’s physically taxing, Scriabinesque sound world with passion, total commitment and, it seems, heartfelt affection. Martyn Brabbins and the Scottish players (with a special tip to the hard-working cymbal player) provide their customary sterling support, leaving you wondering anew how they do so with such unswerving regularity.