Saturday, 30 September 2017

Arnold Cooke: Concerto in D for String Orchestra (1948)

Arnold Cooke’s Concerto in D for String Orchestra was commissioned by the South American division of the BBC and was played on that radio service in 1948. The first concert performance was at Malvern some three years later. The programme notes suggest that it has little in common with contemporary essays – for example John Ireland’s Concertino Pastorale and Michael Tippett’s Double Concerto. There is certainly little here that suggests the English landscape or the musings of rustics on a summer’s day. However, this misses the point. Malcolm MacDonald suggests Bartok and Stravinsky as possible models, and I can see his point. Yet, I was forcibly reminded of Lennox Berkeley. But maybe we can both agree on the writer’s allusion to RVW’s Concerto Accademico?  
The title of ‘concerto’ is a little misleading. It is not a solo concerto and neither is it really a ‘concerto grosso’. The solo instruments emerge “briefly for textural and colouristic effect.”  The opening movement is full of energy and movement. The second, an ‘Andante sostenuto’ is the heart of the work. This is described as an elegy and is worthy of the title: deep music that tugs at the heart strings. Yet it is never sentimental. How this treasure can have lain hidden all these years is a mystery to me. This, to my ear is one of the great utterances of English music.  The last movement once again reminds me of Sir Lennox. It is a cheerful counterbalance to the profound thoughts of the ‘Andante.’ Here, if anywhere, with the ‘jig’ and the ‘pastoral lyricism’ we feel that perhaps Cooke approaches an ‘Englishness’ that is somewhat removed from Paul Hindemith.
Arnold Cooke’s Concerto in D for String Orchestra can be heard on Lyrita SRCD 203. 
With thanks to MusicWeb International where these notes first appeared.

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