I have been a huge fan of the music of Arnold Cooke ever since I discovered it years ago on an ultra-rare Titanic Records disc that I bought for an equally rare hovhaness work. That wonderful disc also has music of Vivaldi, Boismortier, and Jonathan Lovenstein and features music for Recorder and Strings. It can be explored here: http://nocturna-artificialia.blogspot.com/2014/11/something-old-something-new-music-for.html One of his teachers was Paul Hindemith, who had a profound influence on Cooke's compositional style; Arnold Cooke's music sounds quite a bit like Hindemith's however it is not derivative, as Cooke clearly has something to say in his works. Typically his music is muscular, contrapuntally based and for the most part tonal, although clearly in a contemporary idiom. I think he is one of the greatest unsung heroes in British music and 20th century music in general.
Havergal Brian too I have always been fond of, however for me he is much more uneven. I bought this disc specifically for the Cooke symphony, hoping the Brian works would be 'decent' listening. I feel almost like describing him the "British Allan Pettersson" however that's not really accurate. Like Pettersson however, Brian's music can often be hard to penetrate fully, and might reward only after (several) listens. The energetic Cooke symphony No. 3 I find to be a small masterpiece that I could happily play practically every day and not lose interest. Back to Brian, I have always loved his "Gothic" Symphony, (No. 1) which is an astounding symphonic record-breaker; the symphony requires about 800 musicians (!!!) and not surprisingly it's rarely performed or recorded. There are at this point a few good choices, my favorite still being the early Marco Polo disc (for nostalgic reasons almost more than anything else-it's a great performance that would have benefitted from better sound). Here are the forces needed for the Gothic (taken from the Brian Society):
Part one :
2 piccolos (1 also flute), 3 flutes (1 also alto flute), 2 oboes, oboe d’amore, cor anglais, bass oboe, Eb clarinet, 2 Bb clarinets, basset horn, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, Eb cornet, 4 trumpets in F, bass trumpet, 3 tenor trombones, 2 tubas, 2 sets (min 3 drums) timpani, 2 harps, organ, celesta, min 8 percussion: glockenspiel, xylophone, 2 bass drums, 3 side drums, tambourine, pair cymbals, tam-tam, triangle; strings [say 188.8.131.52.8]
Part two :
Soprano, alto, tenor, bass soloists, large children’s choir, 2 large mixed double choruses [in practice 4 large SATB choirs]
orchestra: 2 piccolos (1 also flute), 6 flutes (1 also alto flute), 6 oboes (1 also oboe d’amore, 1 also bass oboe), 2 cors anglais, 2 Eb clarinets (1 also Bb clarinet), 4 Bb clarinets, 2 basset horns, 2 bass clarinets, contrabass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 2 contrabassoons, 8 horns, 2 Eb cornets, 4 trumpets in F, bass trumpet, 3 tenor trombones, bass trombone, contrabass trombone, 2 euphoniums, 2 tubas, 2 sets (min 3 [in practice 4] drums) timpani, 2 harps, organ, celesta, minimum 18 percussion: glockenspiel, xylophone, 2 bass drums, 3 side drums, long drum, 2 tambourines, 6 pairs cymbals, tam-tam, thunder machine [not thunder sheet], tubular bells, chimes, chains, 2 triangles, birdscare; strings (184.108.40.206.12)
4 off stage groups: each containing 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 tenor trombones, set (min 3 drums) of timpani (in summary: 32 wind, 24 on stage brass, 24 off stage brass, 6 timpanists, 18 percussion, 4 keyboards and harps, 82 strings - total orchestra c190 players, plus adult choir of min 500 [assumes largely professionals], children's choir of 100, 4 soloists = c800)
I have yet to post the Gothic, but feel this info is worth adding here as it's an almost unfathomable musical expedition (the symphony actually holds a "Guinness record" as the longest symphony in history, typically just under 2 hours!) and quite intriguing.
Focusing on Arnold Cooke..
Arnold Cooke was one of the few English composers of his generation who chose to study abroad in the inter-war years (Lennox Berkeley went to Nadia Boulanger, Humphrey Searle to Webern, and Walter Leigh, like Arnold Cooke-to Paul Hindemith). Cooke was 23 when he went to Berlin; a mature student does not seek out a teacher to be 'formed', but because, in view of his own character and philosophy of life-already senses the direction in which to go, and hopefully finds teachers (sooner than later) whom can help him on this road. As mentioned Cooke's melodic and harmonic idiom shared a good many characteristics with that of Hindemith, particularly in his middle years. He did not feel the need to learn or invent a new language every few years, and as a result acquired great freedom, subtlety and certainty in handling the one language of his choice. More generally, he shared many of Hindemith's attitudes to music. He liked economy and clarity, disliked grand displays of theatrical emotion, and was ready and able to serve the needs of all types of music makers both amateur and professional. Besides six symphonies, his works include concertos for violin and piano, a full length opera "Mary Barton", cantatas and song cycles, and Cooke was particularly active in every field of instrumental music. Cooke wrote brilliant instrumental music when the occasion demanded but his writing was always practical (and exciting) -without introducing superfluous complexities or difficulties. The relatively compact Symphony No. 3 is a perfect example of this and indeed, the more one listens to it, the more one discovers in it's pages..
The first movement gets right down to business without wasting time on preliminaries. Risings scales in the first two bars lead to a lively staccato theme and thence to a slowly-rising passage in slurred and paired quavers and a forceful entry for trumpets, trombones and tuba. A longer second paragraph of peaceful dialogue between strings and woodwind is followed by a rapid crescendo and two syncopated brass outbursts, with a clinching fortissimo brass unison set against a hammered staccato rhythm from the rest of the orchestra. All this happens in two minutes no less! The development is at first concerned with the initial rising scales, and then the slowly rising passage is dissected into its constituent parts with the trumpets, trombones and tuba forcefully entering once again. Solo horn announces a new theme over pianissimo trumpets and trombones, at once converted into an ostinato (at twice the tempo) which passes through the woodwind, horns once again and then down to the basses, leading back to the recapitulation. When this has run its course, the rising scales return once again; a crescendo builds up quickly from pianissimo depths, preparing the way for a final statement from the brass in unison and by way of the ostinato a powerful fortissimo ending. Now *this* is a knockout first movement!!
In the second movement one should note the falling thirds of the opening clarinet phrase, which are to play a large part in later developments. Variants and derivatives of the the first phrase occupy strings and woodwind at first-the end of this section marked by a punctuating chord built up cumulatively from below. An angular dotted-rhythm theme follows-horn over pizzicato cellos and basses-which soon combines with itself in triple imitation. A short canonic passage based on the falling thirds of the clarinet leads back to a varied recapitulation from which the clarinet is rarely absent. The last appearance of the angular dotted-rhythm is supported by a bass ostinato derived from the falling thirds of the clarinet; the movement ends with a second punctuating chord of the same type as the first. (the last bars always remind me of the opening of "Mathis der Maler")
In the finale the opening major-minor arpeggio theme trails away into a triplet figure as a new rhythmic figure on horns appears above. Many themes follow-some bearing a resemblance to the first movement themes-the last of them, a short figure on oboe accompanied by horns, assuming considerable importance later. The uprushing scales of the first movement are perhaps referred to in the development, which in later stages is much concerned with the major-minor theme. We hear more of the triplet figure in the recapitulation and the oboes and horns take a major role in the action. Towards the end, the arpeggio theme and the oboe accompanied by horns contend for attention; the symphony ends brilliantly and positively, all problems resolved, both motives combining in the final massive tutti.
I have to add that the remastering Lyrita has done here is superb, as you will hear for yourself..