Callaghan and conductor Martyn Brabbins fashion performances that are completely idiomatic, while the fervor of the BBC Scottish Symphony is wonderful.
Roger Sacheverell Coke (pronounced “cook”) was an English composer, pianist, and conductor who lived from 1912 to 1972. Independently wealthy, he was able to pursue music as his vocation for his entire adult life. An archRomantic, Coke admired Rachmaninoff and Arnold Bax, according to pianist Simon Callaghan, who is pursuing a Ph.D. on Coke’s life and works. Coke’s music received a notable number of performances in the 1930s and 1940s, but with the vogue for anti Romantic music starting in the 1950s, Coke’s pieces fell out of fashion. One of the intriguing aspects of the composer’s biography is that he suffered from mental illness. Sources differ as to its nature. The program notes for the present CD state that Coke was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his 20s and received a number of prolonged hospitalizations, while Wikipedia claims that Coke suffered from depression. Whatever the cause of Coke’s indisposition, it probably was exacerbated by his homosexuality, a practice outlawed in Great Britain throughout most of his lifetime. A wonderful introduction to Coke’s music is a beautiful YouTube video of Callaghan and cellist Raphael Wallfisch performing the second movement of Coke’s Second Cello Sonata. In 2015, SOMM issued an important collection of Coke’s solo piano works played by Callaghan. The Preludes, opp. 33 and 34, prove Coke to be a deft and evocative miniaturist. His 15 Variations and Finale is a major work, full of delicious twists and turns. And so Callaghan’s crusade on behalf of Coke leads us to the present CD of all of Coke’s surviving music for piano and orchestra.
Coke wrote six piano concertos. He destroyed the first two as not representative of his mature style, while No. 6 is lost. According to Coke, his Third Piano Concerto was composed in six to seven weeks in 1938, which makes one wonder if mania with its feverish activity was a component of Coke’s illness. The opening movement is highly rhapsodic, with thematic material reminiscent of Richard Addinsell. The textures are lush, with a nod toward Rachmaninoff’s The Isle of the Dead. The second movement begins with a theme for solo piano akin to Debussy. The subsequent variations range in style from Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, then only four years old, to salon music. In the concluding movement, there is something of the episodic tone painting of Bax’s symphonies, then at their height of popularity. Two years later Coke produced his Fourth Piano Concerto. It starts by mimicking the beginning of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto. The opening movement possesses the emotional variety and intensity of a Chopin ballade, while some of its orchestration reminds me of Karol Szymanowski. This is followed by an Intermezzo of operatic dimensions, with a touch of Scriabin harmonically. The last movement, though highly Romantic, demonstrates at times that Coke was not unaware of 1930s English Modernism, particularly William Walton’s First Symphony and the Fourth of Ralph Vaughan Williams. In the sole surviving movement of Coke’s Fifth Concerto, the orchestral part owes much to Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony of a few years earlier, while the piano writing is rather gnomic.
Callaghan and conductor Martyn Brabbins fashion performances that are completely idiomatic, while the fervor of the BBC Scottish Symphony is wonderful. Veteran producer Ben Connellan achieves highly realistic sound engineering. Coke’s concertos are an important addition to our knowledge of the English Romantic school. Lovers of English music should be fascinated by this disc. Dave Saemann
Simon Callaghan’s début concerto disc for Hyperion’s lauded Romantic Piano Concerto Series features the world premiere recordings of Roger Sacheverell Coke’s concertos with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins. Watch the trailer here.
The CD reached #3 in the Official Classical Charts (remaining in the Charts for 3 weeks), the Top 10 in the Classic FM Charts, and featured as November CD of the Month on Colchester Classics and MusicWeb International!
Watch the trailer here.
Read programme notes here.