COOKE Piano Music
How aware are we of the immense influence of Tobias Matthay, an RAM teacher whose innumerable pupils included Myra Hess, Irene Scharrer, Clifford Curzon, York Bowen, Harold Craxton, Harriet Cohen and Moura Lympany? Indeed, my own piano teacher of my now distant youth was a pupil, as was the teacher (Rosemary Wright) of the sympathetic pianist in this recording, Duncan Honeybourne. Matthay, who taught Greville Cooke at the RAM, had hopes that his gifted pupil would develop a career as a concert pianist. Instead, Cooke studied at Cambridge, took holy orders and spent his life as a rural Anglican priest while teaching piano at the RAM between 1925 and 1959.
Cooke’s style, most affecting in lyrical mood, breathes something of that luxuriant Romanticism with which we are now much more familiar in the piano music of York Bowen. Its subtle combination of diatonicism and suave chromaticism has a haunting, nostalgic quality which, at its best in High Marley Rest (a tribute to Matthay’s country home near Haslemere), Whispering Willows, the fantasy-like In the Cathedral, the introspective Song Prelude and the more extrovert tone-poem Cormorant Crag, exudes a melancholy English yearning in its seamless melody and metrical freedom. From the range of pieces here, Honeybourne, with his delicate chemistry of touch and arm weight (watchwords for Matthay), persuasively coaxes out Cooke’s personal sense of poetry and gentle humour. Holst’s neo-classical Nocturne and Vaughan William’s A Little Piano Book, much of it Bach-inspired, provide an effective foil.