Simon Callaghan extracts every ounce of eloquence and fantasy from this intriguing repertoire.
Born into an affluent Derbyshire family with strong links to the military and ties stretching all the way back to King Edward III, Eton-educated Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-72) was a gifted pianist and composition pupil of John Frederic Staton and (later) Alan Bush. When he turned 21, his widowed mother gave him his own dedicated music studio (converted from a coach house and stable block), complete with an audience gallery and concert grand (the booklet shows a photo of him seated at his Steinway). Coke produced a sizeable quantity of music (some of it broadcast by the BBC) including six piano concertos, three symphonies, over 100 songs and a three-act opera based on Shelley's play The Cenci. The latter was eventually staged in November 1959 at London's Scala Theatre under the baton of Eugene Goossens, but the critics savaged it, after which depression and ill-health took their toll (a chronically heavy smoker, Coke dided just one week after his 60th birthday).
Coke also enjoyed the support of Benno Moiseiwitsch and Sergei Rachmaninov, and the Russian master's influence hovers benignly over the two substantial piano works revived here. Written between 1938 and 1941, the 24 Preludes are most idiomatically laid out for the instrument and evince a wealth of thoughtful, red-blooded inspiration and instinctive, fresh-faced poetry. If anything, though, the 15 Variations and finale from 1939 serve up a rather more individual and involving mix of big-hearted invention (try the tumbling No 14, marked on Allegro risoluto), searching harmonic sensibility, intrepid expression and cogent sweep. This strikes me as a genuine discovery.
Simon Callaghan extracts every ounce of eloquence and fantasy from this intriguing repertoire, and Somm's engineering is clean and true to match. Wholly commendable, helpfully informative presentation, too. A bold release, in sum, which will handsomely reward readers who enjoy venturing off the beaten track. Andrew Achenbach
Little is known about Derbyshire pianist and composer R.S. Coke though he was clearly valued during his lifetime and there is an entry about him in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Artists who admired his work include Eugene Goossens who conducted Coke's opera "The Cenci", Sir Henry Wood who conducted the composer's first symphony (broadcast on the BBC) and the Brosa Quartet who performed his chamber music. He was a friend of both Moiseiwitsch and Rachmaninov and dedicated his 2nd Symphony to Rachmaninov with his permission. Watch the trailer here.