For the Sunday concert at Conway Hall on 27 January 2019, pianist Simon Callaghan (director of music for the Sunday Concerts Series) was joined by Rosalind Ventris (viola) and Karel Bredenhorst (cello) to perform two monolithic transcriptions of works for orchestra and soloist, Berlioz’ Harold en Italie in a version for viola and piano by Franz Liszt, and Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote, in a version for cello and piano by the Czech composer Arthur Willner.
The concert opened with the Strauss, and here we were able to appreciate Callaghan’s sympathetic approach to the music, making Richard Strauss on the piano flow as if naturally conceived, and indeed it was intriguing hearing the familiar textures in new guise. And there were plenty of moments, such as the tilting at windmills episode, where Callaghan was able to demonstrate some fine fingerwork.
Bredenhorst made a nicely mellow protagonist, perhaps more dynamic and less Autumnal than some. And, of course, the transcription places the cello part (intended more as primus inter pares rather than a true solo part) in greater spotlight.
Both Bredenhorst and Callaghan brought deft touches of humour to the piece, with a finely wistful conclusion.
Bredenhorst gave us some very stylish cello playing, and was complemented by Callaghan’s superb tour de force in making the huge piano part work.
After the interval we heard Liszt’s 1836 transcription of Berlioz’ Harold en Italie, which had premiered in 1834.
… Ventris and Callaghan played the work with immense sympathy, responding to the more chamber scale and not trying to make it something it wasn’t. So Callaghan’s darkly concentrated account of the opening was complemented by Ventris’ melancholy singing tone, with both made the music highly passionate. The second movement march of the pilgrims was highly atmospheric with some evocative string crossing from Ventris.
… The finale has always been strange as the protagonist disappears from the musical argument for a long stretch, here Ventris moved to the side of the stage and left Callaghan to address the outrageous pianistic demands that Liszt makes in his version of the Orgie de brigands.
Callaghan played it with real bravura, and gave us some rivetingly dramatic pianism, joined again by Ventris for the melancholy ending.
We were treated to an encore, Massenet’s Elegie which enabled all three performers to play together for the first time.
Two Composers of the great German tradition: Rheinberger and Scholz.
The sources of the Hyperion series on romantic piano concertos are not lacking; it makes us discover composers practically ignored on concert programmes such as Felix Draeseke, Alexander Dreyschock, Salomon Jadasson, Alexander Goedicke, Henry Holden Huss, Theodor Kullak, Joseph Marx, Ernest Schelling, Zygmund Stojowski, … and so on. It is today on its 76th volume and, if Joseph Rheinberger has retained a certain presence, Bernhard Scholz, on the contrary, has disappeared through the trap of history. He was, however, one of the important members of Clara Schumann’s musical circle, along with Joseph Joachim and Johannes Brahms. Joseph Rheinberger, who was Kapellmeister of the court of Louis II of Bavaria, has, for his part, retained his reputation as an organist – he wrote two important organ concertos and multiple compositions for the instrument. He is the missing link between Mendelssohn and Reger. He leaves us austere music that makes the impossible synthesis between Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and the contrapuntal Bach.
The scores of the three works recorded here are teeming with scales, thirds, octaves, arpeggios, sixteenth notes, virtuosic features always very spectacular but which mask the deficiencies of thematic development. Anyway, we are faced with robust scores that demonstrate the expertise of their authors. This is how the Scholz concerto entered the repertoire of Clara Schumann who premiered it in 1875.
The concerto and capriccio of Scholz are mentioned as first recordings. The Rheinberger concerto was already part of the earlier, less complete, Vox anthology of the Romantic Piano Concertos under Michaël Ponti’s fingers in 1978. At the beginning of his forties, the American pianist (though born in Germany) had made a specialism of concertos by Thalberg, Moscheles, Hiller, Reinecke and others including Kalkbrenner. Simon Callaghan is even younger with his 29 years (sic!). Youth is therefore looking at these technically difficult pages, which are now erased from musical evolution.
Callaghan has all the resources to approach this repertoire with ease and brilliance without neglecting the delicacy of the lyrical passages. Like his predecessor, Michael Ponti, he creates an untapped niche with these unusual scores.
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is directed in perfect harmony with the excellent Callaghan by the equally young Ben Gernon.
We can only salute the prowess of the performers who draw our attention to these unknown concertos …
A priority for collectors of the series and lovers of unusual discoveries.
Hyperion’s series, ‘The Romantic Piano Concerto’, seems to be an almost inexhaustible resource. Now with two more barely referenced and yet honorable concertos, those of Rheinberger and Scholz, we are already up to the 76th volume. Both works are characterized by sophisticated music, which uses virtuoso elements only to increase the expression and not as a superficial ornament. What you will look for in vain and indeed why these concertos may rarely heard, are catchy melodies. Nevertheless, both are expressive representatives of their genre and worth opening up to the world.
The pianist Simon Callaghan has appeared in this series with the concertos of Roger Sacheverell Coke already, together with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and is dedicated to otherwise rarely-played pieces, achieving considerable success.
New is the young conductor Ben Gernon, who won the ‘Young Conductors Award’ in Salzburg and has since received great respect. Together they perform the works presented here with delicate finesse and deep immersion in the compositional worlds, which make Bach appear as well as Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schumann light up. But these references are only references, the works also shine with the personal tone language of their creators.
Hyperion’s series of romantic piano concertos now features concertos by Rheinberger and Scholz. Both composers use expressive material with demanding, but never virtuosity for its own sake. The performances on this disc are spirited, well-shaped and refined.
Discoveries at the Festival in Husum
“The Briton Simon Callaghan was waiting, and played with breathtaking nuance in the extremely complex, intricate “Le jardin parfumé” by Kaikhosru Sorabji’. In addition, Callaghan presented the unknown — even to some piano rarity specialists – romantics, John Francis Barnett and Jean Louis Nicodé.”
“Nicodé is actually a German composer who was born in Poznan and lived in Dresden, and whose musical lineage can be traced directly back to Schumann and Brahms. Again, however, we never hear works by this composer.”
Loose translation from the original German
Entdeckungen beim Festival in Husum
Die Anklänge an Debussy hört man sofort, aber genauso schnell weiß man: Das ist kein Debussy. Dupont, 1878 geboren, 1914 an Tuberkulose gestorben, fand seine eigene Sprache. Der Schüler Jules Massenets blieb der romantischen Tradition verbunden und seinen Prägungen durch Organisten wie Louis Vierne und Charles Widor. Für den Pianisten Severin von Eckardstein, der einen der eindrücklichsten und hochklassigsten Abende beim Festival Raritäten der Klaviermusik in Husum gab, ist die Musik Gabriel Duponts eine seiner größten Entdeckungen der letzten Jahre.
“Das ist ein Komponist, der sehr früh starb, wo man auch spürt, dass er sein ganzes Leid in den letzten Jahren in dieses Stück hineingelegt hat. ‘La maison dans les dunes’ ist eine sehr interessante Komposition. Es sind ja zehn Stücke, die alle auf wenigen Themen aufbauen, die immer wieder hervorleuchten in den verschiedenen Stücken, und trotzdem haben sie ganz eigene Stimmungen. Also das ist ein Zyklus, der für mich sehr reif ist und schlüssig und abgerundet.”
Die französischen Werke – neben Gabriel Dupont erklangen etwa zwei geistreiche Charakterstücke von Emmanuel Chabrier – kontrastierte Severin von Eckardstein mit russischen Kompositionen, drei Stücken aus dem Zyklus “Cloches” (Glocken) von Felix Blumenfeld, dem Lehrer von Vladimir Horowitz, sowie der Sonate b-Moll von Mili Balakirew. Von dem durch seine virtuos hämmernde orientalische Fantasie “Islamey” bekannten Komponisten lernt man hier in seiner Sonate eine ganz andere Facette kennen. Balakirew bindet volksmusikartige Elemente subtil in originelle Klänge und Formen ein.
Musik: Balakirew, Sonate b-Moll, Finale (1905)
Severin von Eckardstein faszinierte mit einem wunderbar ausgereiften Sinn für feinste Klangabstufungen. Und: Er befand sich während der achttägigen Raritäten-Woche im Schloss vor Husum in bester Gesellschaft. Der Brite Simon Callaghan wartete etwa mit atemberaubenden Piano-Abstufungen bei dem extrem komplexen, verschachtelten “Le Jardin parfumé” von Kaikhosru Sorabji auf. Außerdem stellte Callaghan die selbst manchem Klavier-Raritäten-Spezialisten unbekannten Romantiker John Francis Barnett und Jean Louis Nicodé vor.
Musik: Jean Louis Nicodé, “Frisch und kräftig, sehr markiert” aus “Sechs Fantasiestücke” Op. 6 (1876)
“Nicodé ist eigentlich deutscher Komponist, in Posen geboren, in Dresden gelebt, und es ist ein Nachfahre von Schumann, Brahms, das ist diese Schule. Das ist auch so ein Name, den man vielleicht mal liest, aber dessen Werke man nie hört.”
Hyperion have now reached volume 76 in their impressive Romantic Piano Concerto series. The composers featured are Joseph Rheinberger and the virtually unknown Bernard Scholz. The two works of the latter are here receiving their recording premieres.
Joseph Rheinberger was a graduate of the Munich Conservatory and later became a professor there. Eagerly sought after and influential, he counted amongst his students Engelbert Humperdinck and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Melancholic and retiring by nature, he was a virtuoso pianist in his own right until a hand problem intervened. His compositional output was prolific with twenty organ sonatas and several masses being the best known. His music is polyphonically geared and traditional, revealing the influences of Bach, Mozart, middle-period Beethoven and early Brahms.
The Piano Concerto in B major, Op. 57 dates from 1876 and is cast in a conventional three-movement mould, with two animated outer movements enveloping a central adagio. With several chords, the opening movement summons the listener’s attention in dramatic fashion.
Yet, aside from the almost bombastic virtuosity, which Callaghan addresses with consummate ease and brilliance, there are contrasting moments of lyrical effusiveness.
The second subject is a haunting, beguiling theme which is guaranteed to appeal. The slow movement has a benevolent charm and is bathed in swathes of tender eloquence. The finale opens with leaping octaves which usher in a memorable theme. The whole movement is etched in an opulently, full-bloodied romantic style.
Like Rheinberger, Bernhard Scholz taught for a period at Munich Conservatory. He gravitated to a circle that included Joachim, Clara Schumann and Brahms, and made great efforts to promote the latter’s music. The notes by Bryce Morrison state that he, too, composed twenty organ sonatas, yet I can’t find any evidence for this in the composer’s composition listing.
The Scholz Concerto was premiered in 1875 by Clara Schumann, who did much to champion it. Brahms, Mendelssohn and Schumann are detectable influences. The opener is based around a martial theme, and is permeated with some florid keyboard writing. The slow movement has a Schumannesque feel and, throughout, Callaghan achieves some luminous sonorities, backed by sensitive accompaniment from the orchestra. The finale is the finest of the three movements, Brahmsian-sounding with some Slavonic brushstrokes. It could almost be a success as a stand-alone piece. If you’re fond of Mendelssohn’s Capriccio brilliant, Op. 22 you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Scholz’s Capriccio. It begins in thoughtful manner but gradually springs into action with a whimsical scherzo.
Although the Rheinberger Concerto has previously been recorded, for the majority these two works will constitute an initial encounter, and a highly engaging outing at that. The sound quality is very natural, the ambience warm. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ben Gernon give of their best. The pianist Simon Callaghan has carved something of a niche for himself in unusual repertoire, having already participated in two recordings featuring music by the English composer Roger Sachererell Coke, which I was fortunate to review. One of the discs is Volume 73 in this Hyperion series (review), the other solo piano music on Somm (review).
For those keen to push the boat out a little to discover something new, I would urge them to give these concertos a try.
The emergence of pianist Simon Callaghan on the international music scene in recent years has been a source of particular joy to me.
He is an artist of bold yet unostentatious technique, with plenty of taste and savvy to go with it.
In [a previous issue] I had the pleasure of reviewing Callaghan’s performances of piano concertos by the Englishman Roger Sacherverell Coke, whose music is a particular passion of Callaghan’s. I strongly recommend Callaghan’s YouTube video of Mozart’s 20th Piano Concerto, filmed in May 2016 at England’s Whittington International Music Festival. Callaghan is accompanied by a fine string quartet in a performance that is both subtle and magical, beautifully recorded and photographed. The present CD of Joseph Rheinberger and Bernhard Scholz is not Callaghan’s first recorded encounter with German Romanticism. With cellist Joseph Barralet, he has recorded a beautiful Brahms CD, including Barralet’s wonderful transcription of all 21 Hungarian Dances for cello and piano.
Rheinberger and Scholz both belong to the more conservative side of German Romanticism … Rheinberger wrote wonderfully fluent and idiomatic music for piano … Rheinberger favors highly chordal writing for the solo instrument that blends in with the orchestral textures to create something more like a symphonic argument. Although a musical conservative, Rheinberger’s overall sound here is loaded with beautiful, luminous touches …
Like Rheinberger, [Scholz] composed extensively for organ, but in the piano works here, he gets a particularly lovely sound out of the instrument. The piano concerto is a rambling, agreeable piece, with tunes that are pleasant to hear if not especially distinctive … Scholz’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra is a more conventional showpiece for the soloist, although with plenty of touches of the composer’s endearing quirkiness. The young conductor Ben Gernon provides effective accompaniments throughout the program, particularly in the Rheinberger. Veteran engineer Ben Connellan offers very good sound.
One only can wonder what Simon Callaghan will turn his attention to next. Whatever it is, I’ll bet his performances will be as rapturous as those on the present CD. Highly recommended.
Two more impressive examples in Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series. The only piano concerto by Josef Rheinberger dates from 1877 and is a vast, rich work, owing as much to Brahms as to Schumann. And if Bernhard Scholz’s concerto (1883) is somewhat looser in feel, it too possesses surprising substance.
Callaghan makes the case for both with flair and conviction.
The name of Josef Rheinberger is nowadays hardly ever encountered on concert programs. Only organ lovers will almost certainly come into contact with the work of the man from Liechtenstein (1839-1901). The Cantilena from his Eleventh organ sonata, made famous in the Netherlands by Feike Asma, is the only ‘hit’ that has stood the test of time.
A new CD with his Piano Concerto proves that there is still much to be gained from Rheinberger’s comprehensive oeuvre, who by the age of seven had already composed masses and was highly regarded in his time.
The recording can be found in the series, The Romantic Piano Concerto by the British label, Hyperion. On this volume 76 Simon Callaghan is soloist with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, led by the young conductor Ben Gernon.
After an optimistic theme follows a sparkling musical argument in which the focus is on the piano (the orchestra part in the first movement, moderato, contains a lot of unison), but in which the musical trapeze acts are not forthcoming. Characteristic is the cadenza, which begins with a quasi-fugue that reminds one of Beethoven. Fleeting references to Schumann and Brahms are also heard, but never does one think: I’ve heard this before. It is a lovely piece by an intelligent composer who sought the adventure in miniatures.
The handful of extant recordings are sent into the shadows by this version. Gernon’s tempi are more convincing and Callaghan’s playing breathes pleasure into the music.
The other piano concerto on the album, that of Brahms-admirer Bernhard Scholz (1835-1916), is also worthwhile.
With the name Rheinberger you may not sell tickets (yet), but his piano concerto should certainly be able to conquer hearts. Who will put him on concert programmes in the Netherlands?
Loose translation of the review which originally appeared in Dutch, as below
De naam van Josef Rheinberger kom je tegenwoordig nauwelijks meer tegen op concertprogramma’s. Alleen orgelliefhebbers komen vrijwel zeker met het werk van de man uit Liechtenstein (1839-1901) in aanraking. De Cantilena uit zijn Elfde orgelsonate, in Nederland beroemd gemaakt door Feike Asma, is de enige ‘hit’ die is blijven plakken.
Een nieuwe cd met zijn Pianoconcert bewijst dat er nog veel valt te halen uit het veelomvattende oeuvre van Rheinberger, die op zijn zevende al missen componeerde en in zijn tijd hoog werd aangeslagen.
De opname is te vinden in de reeks The Romantic Piano Concerto van het Britse label Hyperion. Op dit volume 76 soleert Simon Callaghan bij het BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, dat onder leiding staat van de jonge dirigent Ben Gernon.
Na een optimistisch thema volgt een sprankelend muzikaal betoog waarin het gewicht weliswaar bij de piano ligt (het orkestaandeel zit in het eerste deel, Moderato, nog erg in de unisono-sfeer), maar waarin de muzikale trapeze-acts uitblijven. Tekenend is de cadens, die begint met een quasi-fuga die aan Beethoven doet denken. Vleugjes Schumann en Brahms hoor je ook, maar nergens denk je: dit heb ik eerder gehoord. Het is een lieflijk stuk van een intelligent componist die het avontuur zocht in het kleine.
De handvol opnames die er al waren worden door deze uitvoering in de schaduw gezet. Gernons tempi overtuigen en Callaghans spel ademt plezier. Ook het andere pianoconcert op het album, dat van Brahms-bewonderaar Bernhard Scholz (1835-1916), is de moeite waard.
Met de naam Rheinberger verkoop je misschien (nog) geen kaartjes, maar zijn pianoconcert moet zeker harten kunnen veroveren. Wie zet hem eens op de lessenaars in Nederland?
Two lesser known piano-concertos in the Austro-German tradition provide much of interest
The Austro-German symphonic canon goes something like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssoh, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler. Yet if we consider the piano concerto we run out after Brahms, the later history of the piano concerto is with composers born outside this tradition and other Austro-German composers writing in the same tradition are virtually non-existent – at least that is what is implied by the repertoire performed in most concert halls.
This new disc from Hyperion’s The Romantic Piano Concerto series (volume 76!) gives us a chance to move away from the canon and explore. It pairs late-Romantic piano concertos by two lesser known composers from the Austro-German tradition, Joseph Rheinberger and Bernhard Scholz, performed by pianist Simon Callaghan with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conductor Ben Gernon
Josef Rheinberger was something of a prodigy who went on to train in Munich and spent most of his life teaching there. Whilst he wrote music in a wide variety of genres, he is best known for his organ sonatas, though lovers of choral music hold his masses in some regard.
His piano concerto was written in 1876 (between Brahms first and second concertos) and unfortunately Bryce Morrison’s booklet note, whilst admirable on the music itself, does not let us know for whom it was written. The concerto is in some ways a surprising work, Rheinberger is known for his admiration of Bach and the solidity of his structural construction. Yet here is a concerto whose piano writing sometimes evokes Liszt and perhaps Saint Saens (whose Piano Concerto No. 4 dates from 1875). The works is in three movements, the lively opening Moderato starts with a striking call to attention before moving to strong sonata form, the slow movement Adagio patetico is surprisingly full-blooded whilst the Allegro energico is just that, with the whole written on a grand scale (it lasts something over 30 minutes).
Bernhard Scholz is a lesser known name, he was part of the musical circle which included Joachim, Clara Schumann and Brahms, and Clara Schumann championed Scholz’s piano concerto having premiered it in 1875. We can detect the influences of Brahms in the work but also Mendelssohn and Schumann. Another seriously large-scale work (it lasts almost 30 minutes), there is much to enjoy, with piano writing which moves between the Schumann-esque and the virtuosic. We are also treated to one of Scholz’s lighter pieces, the charming Capriccio for piano and orchestra.
The performances here are excellent, with Simon Callaghan making light work of the works’ technical demands. He brings a strong sense of sympathy for the style of the late Romantic concertos, allowing for some seriousness of purpose but also playing with fizz and elan where necessary. He is well supported by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ben Gernon, and these accounts of the works go far beyond the dutiful; Callaghan, Gernon and the BBC SSO are highly persuasive, and make us listen to these works properly.
Listening to this disc completely dismisses any idea we might have of lesser known Austro-German piano concertos to be academic and dull, here both composers combine seriousness of purpose and strong construction with an engaging way with the piano writing.
There is certainly much to enjoy and this is a lovely exploration of a forgotten corner of the repertoire.
Simon Callaghan (piano) & principal players of the London Mozart Players: Simon Blendis & Jenny Godson (violins), Judith Busbridge (viola), Sebastian Comberti (cello), Stacey Watton (double bass) & Michael Cox (flute) – Conway Hall
Mozart Serenade in G, K525 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik)
Beethoven, arr. Vinzenz Lachner Piano Concerto No.3 in C-minor, Op.37
Bottesini Elegy No.1 in D [arranged]
Haydn, arr. Johann Peter Salomon Symphony No.102 in B-flat
This skilled ensemble from the London Mozart Players successfully revealed the inner workings of well-known musical masterpieces through interesting arrangements. The players opened with a spick and span Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The use of one instrument to a part is a perfectly acceptable way of presenting the work and added definition from double bass resulted from it. This was a stylish, clear-cut approach with an especially springy Minuet but, surprisingly, the conventionally observed exposition repeats of the outer movements were omitted.
The arrangement by Vinzenz Lachner (1811-1893) of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto was published in 1881 (the programme mistakenly attributed it to his brother Franz). String quartet and double bass replace the orchestra and they cleverly substitute the wind parts. Although in unfamiliar instrumental guise, every melody from within the orchestra is represented – even the timpani solo at the end of the first-movement cadenza is adequately represented by pizzicato bass. A rich viola part represents much of the woodwind with second violin catching the flute contribution although a cello is not of ideal timbre to replace the bassoon. As for the solo part – the placing of the bright-toned piano behind the strings was ideal and only rarely did it overpower the modest ensemble.
Simon Callaghan’s interpretation was superb: absolute clarity, absolute precision. The swift straightforwardness was refreshing – no romantic relaxations here, just powerful Beethoven. The spare accompaniment allowed inner keyboard parts to be heard in great detail. The impetus of this performance gave a symphonic nature to the work, a very fine interpretation.
Giovanni Bottesini’s Elegy No.1 is played reasonably frequently in the version with piano but here string quartet supported Stacey Watton. I know of two editions for strings (Musikproduktion Höflich, arranged Wood, and Mesa Music, arranged Scott) and both give the option of quartet or quintet so I assume one or other of these was employed. It is a truly beautiful piece and Watton phrased the principal melody with the utmost sensitivity, the accompaniment was ideal and helped make this a serene experience.
Haydn had barely completed his final visit to London before a publication entitled “XII Grand Symphonies, by Haydn, arranged as Quintets, by J. P. Salomon” became available. Some unpublished examples may even have been performed before Haydn’s departure from England. The scoring is for flute, first and second violins, viola and cello. Initially, use of keyboard continuo was assumed and in his first arrangement Salomon included a figured bass but not thereafter and it is doubtful if this instrument would have been included in performance – there certainly seems no need for it.
Symphony 102 is a good example to choose because there are several important solo moments for flute. This was an excellent reading with ideal tempos, and repeats properly observed. All the tunes are there although I wish a double bass had been included. I recall hearing a performance of the work in this hall some years ago and memorably those horns in high B-flat rang out excitingly, assisted by the glass roof: thank you Mr Salomon for underlining their spectacular descent from the stratosphere in the Minuet by representing it on the flute. There are many clever instrumental replacements in this edition but the original orchestral colours still remained in the mind. This was such an intelligently realised, superbly played rendering that the genius of Haydn was still portrayed.
Simon Callaghan has really done an incredible job in getting this music from complete obscurity onto disc; not least in preparing the orchestral materials form Coke’s manuscripts. The works presented are all that remain of his five concertos, no 1 and 2 having been lost and only one movement of number 5 has been found.
Concerto No 3 was written in six weeks in 1938 and first performed in Bournemouth 1939 by its dedicatee Charles Lynch. Coke himself gave some performances of the work himself and one was broadcast. Rachmaninov is clearly the major influence here, and in comparison Coke is not found wanting. The melodic material is instantly memorable and the piano writing thrillingly virtuosic. Likewise the orchestration is clearly by someone with a superb understanding of orchestral colour. The second movement is a gorgeous set of 10 variations on a luxuriantly harmonised theme first heard in a lengthy piano solo. There is a hint of Gershwin in some of the variations, with some jazzy rhythms and harmonies. The 10 minute movement functions as both slow movement and scherzo is a very impressive in terms of its architecture. It leads seamlessly via a slow piano solo to the majestic finale, a lyrical theme which Coke himself described as ‘almost Russian’ is made much of. After a lengthy cadenza the opening material comes back in high Romantic fashion and the concerto ends dynamically and emphatically.
Concerto No.4 opens with a theme that bears more than a passing resemblance to his hero Rachmaninov’s 3rd Concerto, and does have a decidedly Russian feel to it, even if that is seen through the ears of Bax. This is a more complex work than the third, the harmony and the architecture of the movement are more complex, with unexpected changes of speed and dynamics. Martyn Brabbins does a wonderful job in coordinating the great shifts in tempi and the attending problems in ensemble. The short-ish slow movement is probably the most English sounding of all with Ireland and again Bax coming to mind and the orchestration is extraordinary. Taking into account Coke heard very few of his orchestral works his inner ear is very fine indeed. The finale bursts forth with turbulent syncopated fanfare material which throughout the movement is contrasted with what Coke called themes of gossamer delicacy. The finale not the first movement is probably the emotional heart of the work and it is a tightly wound symphonic movement. It builds to a mighty dissonant climax that only just manages to resolve, but still leaves one feeling unsettled.
Concerto No. 5 was written between 1947 and 1950 and what is recorded here is probably the second movement which is all that survives of the work. A dark, sombre opening gives way to a lyrical tender melody on the piano which is developed often in a question and answer way throughout the movement. This is probably the most modern sounding of the works here and I do wonder what music Coke was writing in his final 20 years; did he continue in this vein. The final chord leaves one wanting more, perhaps the other movements may surface someday.
As with his earlier disc of solo piano music Simon Callaghan makes a convincing case for this composer. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins plays the music impeccably, and dare I say lovingly? Mr Callaghan once again shows himself to be one of the leading young British pianists with a wonderfully wide range of tone colours and a sure understanding of the structure and passion of the scores.
On Saturday 2nd December’s episode of BBC Radio 3 Record Review, Andrew McGregor featured Simon Callaghan’s Hyperion release. If you would like to hear the excerpt of Coke’s Piano Concerto no. 3, and McGregor’s response to the recording, please follow this link. It will be available for 30 days from the date of the original broadcast, and can be heard from about 1 hr 39 mins.
“I have nothing but praise for the performances”
“His impressive pianism is wholeheartedly supported by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.”
It’s two years since Simon Callaghan’s pioneering accounts of the piano music of Roger Sacheverell Coke were released on the Somm label, and I had the good fortune to review them. It was a fascinating discovery for me as I had no prior knowledge of the composer. At the time, Callaghan was researching the life of the enigmatic composer at both the Coke-Steel Archive at Chesterfield Library and the British Library. His grit and determination paid off when he discovered that the missing manuscript of the Third Concerto was lodged safely in the hands of Christopher Darwin, Coke’s nephew. Since that time, what was a long held dream has become reality and here are the three extant concertos with No. 5 surviving as a second movement only. Callaghan has meticulously prepared the score and parts of Concertos 4 and 5.
Coke was born in Alfreton, Derbyshire in 1912. His family were well heeled. His father was killed in action in the opening months of the First World War at the battle of Ypres; Roger was only two at the time, so he was brought up by his mother Dorothy. He was sent to Eton, where his artistic temperament began to develop. Interestingly, a nineteenth-century relative was Alfred Sacheverell Coke, a pre-Raphaelite artist. On his return to the ancestral home, Brookhill Hall, his mother converted a stable building into a music studio and furnished it with a Steinway grand; it was to remain a creative base for the rest of his life. Music studies were with John Frederick Staton and Alan Bush. An accomplished pianist, the piano features prominently in his oeuvre, which includes three symphonies, six piano concertos (of which only two complete, plus one isolated movement survive), chamber works, solo piano music and a three-act opera The Cenci.
After some early success his reputation began to fade. There are several reasons for this. One was that he eschewed modern trends and, as a disciple of Rachmaninov, his music remained rooted in a Romantic tradition. His heroes were Bruckner, Mahler, Bax and Sibelius. He was highly self-critical of his music and this resulted in him withdrawing his first twelve opuses, including the first two piano concertos which, surprisingly, had received some initial acclaim. In his early twenties he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and mental health issues throughout his life lead to lengthy spells in hospital.
Composed in the matter of a few weeks in the autumn of 1938, the Third Piano Concerto presents a lushly Romantic canvas, clearly influenced by Rachmaninov. It was premiered in Bournemouth in 1939, by its dedicatee Charles Lynch. Coke regarded it as his finest composition. The opening movement has a strong Russian flavor, and is rhapsodic in its intensity. Yet there are also moments of tender reflection. The end is enigmatic, with the music fading away in the closing bars, leaving a question mark. Next comes a theme and ten variations. The theme sounds quite impressionistic. Coke evinces an adept imaginative skill in the construction of the variations, calling for effects such as staccato chords and rippling arpeggios. Orchestral textures in this movement are, for the most part, kept light and transparent. Callaghan’s achievement of myriad tonal hues adds greatly to the allure. Bold and declamatory gestures supply vigour and potency to the finale, with the music interspersed with more sober passages. It closes with an impressive sweeping flourish.
Two years later in 1940 Coke wrote his Fourth Concerto in C sharp minor, dedicating it to the pianist Eileen Joyce. He premiered it himself the following year. I have to say that the work is a much harder nut to crack than its predecessor, but after several hearings I prefer it to No. 3. It is more advanced harmonically and structurally, and it yields a wealth of riches to those with determined perseverance. Its seductively chromatic harmonies suggest a Scriabinesque terrain, wildly imaginative and almost sensual. The landscape is constantly shifting. The first movement is dark, brooding, stark and austere and, at times, exudes a mystical aura. A shorter Intermezzo follows, with lightly textured orchestration supporting an expressive piano line. The finale’s turbulent opening has an urgency about it. The piano enters with a “gossamer-like delicacy”, as the composer described it. The music feels as though it’s not at peace with itself. Halfway through the brass herald in a brief stormy section. Powerful piano chords and an exuberant romantic sweep at the end call time.
The Fifth Concerto had a three-year gestation from 1947-1950 and was named after a certain ‘F. Orton’. Its sole surviving ‘slow’ movement is darkly etched. Occasionally, shafts of touching lyricism break the austere thread.
This is Volume 73 in Hyperion’s ongoing Romantic Piano Concerto series. All works on the disc are first recordings.
Simon Callaghan’s commitment to Coke’s cause is to be lauded. As with all the recordings I’ve heard from the Hyperion stable, the sound quality is exemplary. Martyn Brabbins’ inspirational direction draws the very best from the orchestral players.
The first-class annotations by Dr. Rupert Ridgewell, Curator of Printed Music at the British Library, are translated into French and German.
The English composer Roger Sacheverell Coke (pronounced ‘Cook’) was born in 1912 and died in 1972. With dates like this you might think that he and his music would fall way outside the period we normally associate with the era of the Romantic piano concerto. But from the first bar of his Piano Concerto No 3, composed in 1938, we are in the world of Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, Charles Williams’s The Dream of Olwen, Reynell Wreford’s The Last Rhapsody and the myriad other quasi-Rachmaninov pieces of the period. Indeed, Coke’s first movement could have been lifted straight from the soundtrack of some black-and-white drama with Greer Garson or Robert Donat, strong on melody and declamatory octaves, short on development and individuality.
Rachmaninov is the strongest influence (the two men became friends, the Russian visiting Coke’s ancestral pile in Derbyshire and accepting the dedication of Coke’s Second Symphony), though one notices that throughout the seven movements on this disc, there is in the solo writing very little of the brilliant and effective passagework so beloved of the older composer, or of comparably memorable material.
Hats off to Simon Callaghan, whose earlier pioneering disc of Coke’s solo piano music (Somm, 8/15) was rightly warmly and widely praised. He throws himself into the concerto’s physically taxing, Scriabinesque sound world with passion, total commitment and, it seems, heartfelt affection. Martyn Brabbins and the Scottish players (with a special tip to the hard-working cymbal player) provide their customary sterling support, leaving you wondering anew how they do so with such unswerving regularity.
Coke Piano Concertos – Hyperion
From an aristocratic Derbyshire family, Eton educated pianist-composer Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-72) is a figure who has become almost totally obscure. On the evidence of his highly persuasive, well-crafted and melodically attractive piano concertos 3-5 (recorded here for the first time) he wrote in a nostalgically romantic idiom, clearly heavily under the influence of Sergei Rachmaninov. The influence of the older Russian master’s first concerto is immediately obvious in the first movement of the 3rd concerto, written in 1938, where Simon Callaghan is clearly in his element, enjoying the abundance of double octaves whilst never losing melodic elegance nor beauty of tone. Perhaps there is a more of an affinity with John Ireland than romantic Russia in the same concerto’s central movement, a set of ten variations on a dreamily chromatic theme. Here as elsewhere the luscious orchestral writing, particularly in the strings, is unquestionably noteworthy. Some may find the 3rd concerto’s finale a little too cliché-ridden, lacking sufficient energetic resolve and bite. Though there are striking moments for solo violin, ‘cello and flute with piano accompaniment, overall it relies too heavily on sequences and common-place harmonic progressions, tendencies that are mercifully absent in the other movements.
The opening of Coke’s Fourth Concerto (1940) will inevitably remind the listener of Rachmaninov’s Third, though the music is more cinematographic than this famous precursor. Callaghan clearly relishes the thick, busy textures in Coke’s solo part, and there is no denying the vivid excitement and contrasting colours that are presented. Perhaps World War 2 is responsible for the dark, ominous characterisation in its first movement. This is pessimistic, grim and rather rhapsodic writing that owes much not only to Rachmaninov but also to Sibelius, and even early/middle period Scriabin. As with the slow movement, there is also a harmonic affinity with John Ireland. But just how memorable and individually striking this music is will remain open to subjectivity. What does remain an indisputable and constant recurring tendency through all the movements on the disc is the beauty of Coke’s orchestration- and in this -characteristically excellent- Hyperion recording the BBCSSO are obviously enjoying the abundant opportunities for colouristic celebration that they are afforded. This is certainly evident in the introspective, at times hauntingly disturbed slow movement. Music that can be unsettling and anguished, with a searching longing that demands attention. Unfortunately, the finale of no. 4 is less persuasive- as with the last movement of the 3rd concerto, there is an intrinsic lack of conviction and drive to much of the writing, which consequently appears incoherent and overly complex as a result.
The sole surviving movement of Coke’s fifth and final concerto, a slow movement is impassioned and beautifully orchestrated, providing the performers with a wonderfully lyrical vehicle for expressive music making. A happy conclusion to an intriguingly mixed bag of music- but one which unquestionably deserves to be explored and celebrated.
The surviving concertos by a neglected British composer, out of synch with the British mid-20th century main-stream but striking and fascinating nonetheless, in stunning performances
Pianist Simon Callaghan has already explored Roger Sacheverell Coke’s solo piano music in his 2015 recording of Coke’s Preludes on SOMM (see my review), now Callaghan has returned to give us more of the music from this neglected 20th century British composer. For the 73rd (!) volume of Hyperion Records series The Romantic Piano Concerto, Simon Callaghan joins the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins to perform Roger Sacheverell Coke’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in E flat major, Piano Concerto No. 4 in C sharp minor and the slow movement from Piano Concerto No. 5 in D minor.
The music on the disc represents all that survives of Coke’s six piano concertos, the composer destroyed the first two, the slow movement seems to be all that survives of the fifth and for a while it seemed that only the composer’s two-piano version of the third had survived.
Coke studied with Alan Bush, J Frederick Staton and Mabel Lander, who was a pupil of Leschetizky. With relative freedom from financial concerns and a music studio created for him in buildings on his family estate, Coke initially developed a promising career. Coke was a homosexual (which needn’t have been an obstacle in the British musical world of the time), but he also suffered from depression and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in hospitals. Performances of his music rather dried up after World War II and were mostly confined to his native Derbyshire. At his own expense, his opera The Cenci was given a performance in London in 1959 and was given hostile reviews by the critics, leading to severe depression.
His style was also very much at odds with the British musical climate of the day, quite how much can be judged from the Piano Concerto No. 3 which is a huge, Rachmaninov-inspired piece. Coke was a great admirer of Rachmaninov, visited him in Lucerne and Rachmaninov probably visited Coke at his home in Derbyshire. In three movements, the piece large scale (lasting around 30 minutes), and is full of rich orchestration and big romantic piano writing. The work was premiered in 1939 in Bournemouth with the dedicatee, Charles Lynch, playing the solo part.
Before we complain too much about the neo-Rachmaninov, it is worth bearing in mind that the composer was only in his 20s and the work is highly impressive for a young composer, and that Rachmaninov’s final symphonic works only date from a few year’s earlier. Coke’s writing represents a strikingly different strand to British musical consciousness.
That Coke’s musical style developed over time is fascinatingly documented by the concertos on the disc. The Piano Concerto No. 4 was composed in 1940 and dedicated to Eileen Joyce. Again in three movements, it is another big 30 minute work. Rather darker than the earlier concerto, with a brooding first movement and a dark dramatic third. Whilst the CD booklet article cites the influence of Scriabin, I found a lot of the writing, particularly that for piano, reminded me of Bax and Ireland.
It is interesting to consider the relationship of British composers to the piano concerto, Delius wrote one in 1897 which was played at the Proms between 1907 and 1921, and Stanford wrote three. It seems to have resurfaced after the First World War in remarkably big bold form, including RVW’s piano concerto of 1926 and John Foulds Dynamic Triptych of 1927-29. Bax wrote a number of concertante works for piano and orchestra but no specific piano concerto and of course John Ireland’s dates from 1930.
The sole surviving movement of Coke’s fifth concerto, presumed to be the middle movement, is a nine minute piece of sombre, and rather striking writing. This is a very definite voice, and a long way from the neo-Rachmaninov of the first concerto. Again, Bax and Ireland come to the fore and you rather regret the loss of the other movements of the concerto and the complete final concerto. It becomes clear, listening to this disc, that we need to place Coke with the group of other composers (including notable refugees like Berthold Goldschmidt) whose compositional style was at odds with British music of the 1950s and whose composing career was effectively frozen out by the musical establishment.
The performances from all concerned are admirable. Coke was clearly no mean pianist and the sort of composer, like Rachmaninov and Bax, who likes rich, strongly figured piano writing. Simon Callaghan takes it all in his stride, encouraging us to enjoy the sheer luxuriance of the piano writing and well supported by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. This disc is clearly something of a labour of love, and we must be grateful for Hyperion to including it in their series.
Coke wrote a great deal more, including three symphonies and that tantalising opera The Cenci, so I hope that we get to hear more of his output. This disc is essential listening for anyone interested in an alternative history of British music. The fine performances make all three concertos a joy, but I particularly think that the fourth and fifth are essential listening.
British pianist Simon Callaghan has specialized in neglected 20th century piano music, and with this 2017 release, part of the Hyperion label’s successful and ongoing Romantic Piano Concerto series, he has turned to the almost completely forgotten Roger Sacheverell Coke, a composer and pianist who bankrolled much of his career out of his hereditary Derbyshire estate and numbered Rachmaninov among his admirers. The three piano concertos here certainly show the influence of Rachmaninov, but Coke seems at times to toy with the listener’s expectation of getting retreaded Russian Romanticism: sample the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 4 in C sharp minor, which sounds like pure Rachmaninov only to depart into less heroic gestures almost immediately. That concerto and especially the fragmentary Piano Concerto No. 5 in D minor (Coke was given to destroying some of his own finished works) combine the Rachmaninov idiom with darker, perhaps more personal moods and with variance in the relationship between piano and orchestra; the Piano Concerto No. 5 might have been the concerto that Sibelius never wrote.
The recording by Callaghan with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins does the work full justice. A commendable revival of works dug out of archives by the pianist himself.
EM Records has put all lovers of English music in its debt with a series of releases that has rescued from oblivion some unaccountably neglected yet treasurable music, with performances to match.
On this occasion the focus is on music for two violins, opening with Rebecca Clarke’s exquisite three-movement Suite of 1909, brimful of memorable inspiration and beautifully scored with a haunting nocturne to finish. Midori Komachi and Sophie Rosa play as one, dovetailing their phrases and matching their sound to a remarkable degree, counterpointed by velvet-gloved pianism of ravishing sensitivity from Simon Callaghan and further enhanced by an atmospheric, gently cushioned sound picture.
Also included are two world premiere recordings: Paul Patterson’s Allusions Trio (2016), an expertly written, joyfully colourful and inventive work based on his concerto for two violins; and Gordon Jacob’s Four Bagatelles (1961), which was originally composed as a Christmas gift for violinist David Martin and then disappeared from view until (thanks to some inspired detective work) it was rediscovered for this recording. Moeran’s 1930 Sonata dates from shortly after the motoring accident that helped refocus his dwindling creative energies (the central Presto is especially delightful); and Alan Rawsthorne’s Theme and Variations is a dazzling, virtuoso sequence that Komachi and Rosa bring thrillingly to life, revelling in its neo-Classical exuberance and contrapuntal nuancing.
Sidmouth Herald, Stephen Huyshe-Shires
The second concert of the Sidmouth Music season in the parish church provided a display of exemplary musicianship, with a solo recital by international pianist Simon Callaghan.
On his Twitter feed, Simon had described his choice of works as ‘epic but great’, and he proved he was the master of all the great music he had selected.
The opening piece was a carefree sonata from Schubert, his A major D664. Simon brought out well the lightness of the first movement. The andante was Schubert in more tranquil mood and sympathetically handled before Simon found the joyful mood again in the final graceful dance.
Ravel’s masterpiece, Gaspard de la Nuit, is of an altogether different and sinister nature.
Simon was not intimidated by the difficult writing and brought a shimmering magic to Ondine, the beguiling water sprite luring men to a watery end.
Le Gibet was suitably macabre, the incessant tolling bell note, key to developing the tension, perfectly judged. For Scarbo, Simon found an insistent oppressive feeling to enhance the menace of the malevolent goblin portrayed.
After the interval, the audience was treated to a selection of pieces from unknown British composer Roger Sacheverell Coke. Written in the mid-20th century, the five preludes were an excellent introduction to Coke’s romantic sound world.
Simon displayed well the charm and beauty, as well as the darker turbulent feelings to be found amongst the pieces. From this performance, it is evident why his recording of these works has met with such praise from the musical press.
He closed with Chopin’s second sonata, the Funèbre with, at its heart, the incomparable funeral march. Simon launched briskly into the restless urgency of the first movement. The march itself had the audience spellbound, the magic carrying through the dense and tormented conclusion. To insistent applause, Simon returned to break the spell with the gentle opening piece from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, sending his audience home, well enchanted with the afternoon’s music.
One oddity in the programme was presented by Simon Callaghan from England: “15 Variations and Finale” by Roger Sacheverell Coke. This British composer (who died in 1972) you hardly find on the Internet let alone in encyclopaedias. His demanding, not easy-listening variations were played by Simon Callaghan with wonderful clarity.
Callaghan was featured in the “Young Explorers” series. He also performed humorous and intelligently-arranged melodies of Richard Rodgers, by Stephen Hough.
Above all, the incredible charm and delicacy, the rhythmic precision and especially the wealth of nuances show Simon Callaghan as cultured, technically flawless, but always touching piano playing to be remembered. This concert was – already at the beginning of this year’s Rarities of Piano Music Festival – one of the festival highlights.
Musik: Roger Sacheverell Coke, 15 Variations & Finale op. 37
Eine Skurrilität hatte hier Simon Callaghan aus England im Programm: “15 Variationen und Finale” von Roger Sacheverell Coke. Diesen, 1972 verstorbenen britischen Komponisten findet man kaum im Internet geschweige denn in Lexika. Seine anspruchsvollen, nicht leicht zu hörenden Variationen spielte Simon Callaghan mit wunderbarer Klarheit.
Callaghan stellte sich in Husum ebenfalls in der Reihe “Young Explorers” vor. Er präsentierte auch von Stephen Hough ebenso witzig wie intelligent arrangierte Musical-Melodien von Richard Rodgers.
Musik: Stephen Hough, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Transcriptions, The March of the Siamese Children
Vor allem bleiben der unglaubliche Charme und die Delikatesse, die rhythmische Präzision und besonders der Reichtum an Anschlagsnuancen bei Simon Callaghans kultiviertem, technisch makellosem, aber immer berührenden Klavierspiel in Erinnerung. Dieses Konzert kann man schon zu Beginn der diesjährigen Raritäten der Klaviermusik zu einem der Festival-Höhepunkte küren.
English pianist Simon Callaghan presented an evening of captivating sound and fantasy which was rightly celebrated with enthusiastic ‘bravi’. Now the Steinway began once again to sing, to whisper and to declaim unforcedly.
Arnold Bax’s Two Russian Tone Pictures anglicise and modernise the intonation of Balakirev in a piquant manner. In Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972) one discovered a composer almost entirely unknown even in England, whose more than half an hour long 15 Variations and Finale Op.37 are noble, pianistically charming, and formally following a little in the footsteps of Rachmaninov. For dessert Callaghan served Stephen Hough’s colourful arrangements of four songs from musicals by Rogers and Hammerstein and for coffee, some more Coke (three of the preludes).
This was Husum, as it should be.
The above is a loose translation of the original German text:
Betörende Klang- und Gestaltungsfantasie entfaltete abends der Engländer Simon Callaghan und wurde mit Recht bravolaut gefeiert. Jetzt begann der Steinway wieder zu singen, zu flüstern und unforciert zu deklamieren. Arnold Bax‘ Two Russian Tone-Pictures anglisieren und modernisieren Tonfälle eines Balakirew auf pikante Weise. Mit Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912–1972) lernte man einen selbst in England nahezu unbekannten Komponisten kennen. Dessen mehr als halbstündige 15 Variations & Finale op. 37 sind ein nobel-pathetisches, pianistisch reizvolles, formal ein wenig in die Breite gehendes Werk in der Rachmaninow-Nachfolge. Als Dessert servierte Callaghan Stephen Houghs farbige Bearbeitungen vier populärer Musical-Songs von Rodgers & Hammerstein und gleichsam zum Kaffee noch einmal Coke (drei der Préludes). Das war Husum, wie es sein soll.
Musical Opinion, James Palmer
Sacheverell Coke’s name will mean little to the general musical lover, but this new recording – the first to be devoted entirely to his music- should do much to rehabilitate a gifted and original British composer ( 1912-1972) who is almost completely neglected. Thanks to Simon Callaghan’s very fine pianism (regular readers will recall his excellent feature on the composer in the last issue) we now have a very good opportunity of rediscovering a composer whose music certainly does not deserve the scandalous neglect it has suffered in the 40-odd years since his death. Coke was a fine pianist himself, a friend of Rachmaninoff, and a person who suffered from various conditions which held him back socially. But his is genuine music by a genuine composer, and this excellently- produced CD is very strongly recommended to lovers of British music of the period.
British composer Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972) had a troubled life and was from an upper class family of Derbyshire’s historical military tradition. Despite his struggles his wealth allowed him to devote himself full time to composition in a large home studio with a splendid Steinway piano and a capacity of several hundred people.
Coke had numerous health problems, exacerbated by his heavy dependence on tobacco (it is said that he smoked more than 100 cigarettes per day) and his homosexuality, then a criminal offense. He was a prolific composer: it is worth mentioning the six piano concertos, the three symphonies and the opera in three acts taken from the play by Shelly The Cenci, financed by the Coke himself, performed only once in 1959 and criticised by the press for using a ‘outdated’ late romantic language. Simon Callaghan, a pianist who likes to experiment with rarely visited repertoire, has devoted much effort to the recovery of Coke.
This CD offers the first recordings of the 24 Preludes opp. 33 and 34, a cycle dedicated to Coke’s mother exploring the various keys in the cycle of fifths starting from C major, and the Variations Op. 37, inspired by the Variations on a Theme of Corelli of Coke’s friend Sergei Rachmaninov: compositions reminiscent of Britten and Skryabin.
The above is a rough translation of the original review in Italian which has been published in the October issue of Amadeus
“The Yorkshire Young Sinfonia performed their inaugural concert at York Barbican last Saturday night, after a week of intense rehearsals and tutoring. The group of more than 30 young musicians hit the ground running with an exciting rendition of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, before being joined by soloist Simon Callaghan in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor.”
“Callaghan performed with a light touch and delivered a particularly arresting cadenza.”
Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972) was something of a tragic figure; wealthy, talented, well connected and the possessor of a formidable technique, he devoted his life to music, writing copiously for the piano, the orchestra and the stage. But despite all his advantages he could never find a publisher, resorting to his own money to put his music in front of an audience. The critics were harsh, questioning why in the mid-20th century he was writing florid, late-Romantic pieces such as the preludes and variations played so faithfully here by Simon Callaghan. The fevered, relentless chromaticism is hard to take but this is at least an opportunity to reassess a composer admired by Rachmaninov but already out of his time.
Recording of the month, July 2015
It’s fascinating to read about Simon Callaghan’s ‘unearthing’ of the music of the Derbyshire composer, Roger Sacheverell Coke. He was given a score of the composer’s 24 Preludes by a fellow pianist. Initially off-put by the meticulous detail contained therein, his perseverance won the day and there was no turning back. With echoes of Scriabin, Bax and Rachmaninov, the music struck a chord, and Callaghan became a man with a mission. With not much to go on apart from an entry in Grove (1955 Edition), he decided to research the life of this enigmatic composer. The Coke-Steel Archive at Chesterfield Library and the British Library proved valuable resources, the latter offering a late 1940s recording of Coke himself playing and discussing his music. Finally, Callaghan approached Somm and the 24 Preludes (1938-41) were recorded last year, coupled with the 15 Variations, Op. 37 from 1939.
Coke was born in Alfreton, Derbyshire in 1912, into an upper middle-class family. His father was a military man, who was killed in the opening months of the First World War at the battle of Ypres. Roger was only two at the time. Eton educated, his artistic temperament eventually began to develop. Interestingly, a nineteenth-century relative was Alfred Sacheverell Coke, a pre-Raphaelite artist. The family’s wealth was a positive asset to the young composer’s development. His mother converted a stable building into a music studio and furnished it with a Steinway grand. Coke studied music with John Frederick Staton and Alan Bush. The piano was to feature prominently in his compositions, which include three symphonies, six piano concertos, chamber works, solo piano music and a three-act opera The Cenci.
The 24 Preludes comprise two sets, Op. 33 containing eleven, and Op. 34 thirteen. Op. 33 opens emphatically with a Prelude marked ‘Appassionato’ consisting of a declamatory theme over an agitated and restless bass. Prelude No. 4 is cast in a similar mould, delivered by Callaghan with assertive passion. Prelude 7 ‘Grazioso’ is lyrical, as is No. 11. To my ear, No. 10 has a Chopinesque flavour. Prelude No. 12 which opens Op. 34 truly makes its assertive presence felt. No. 13, which follows, is more conciliatory in tone. Prelude 14 is painted with a rich palette of colourful harmonies. Nos. 15 and 16 are more introvert. Callaghan voices the chords admirably in 17, with 18 sounding busy and agitated. No. 20 is languid, as its marking suggests. The cycle ends in a ‘Maestoso’ of energetic, rhythmic power.
I have a preference for the Variations Op. 37, which are the product of an inventive and imaginative mind. They cover a wide emotional range, with Callaghan skilfully underlining the diverse elements. The beautiful theme is poignant, yet has a certain nobility. Variation 2 is upbeat, contrasting with the sombre, dark, tolling quality of the ‘dolorosa’ of Variation 3. Here I detected a Rachmaninov influence. In Variation 4, the pianist emphasizes the melodic line against an arpeggiated accompaniment. The exquisite Variation 9 is wistful, and in Variation 15, the Dies Irae seems to make an appearance.
The pianist’s dogged pursuit of the composer’s lost manuscripts, especially the score of his Piano Concerto No 3, has been fruitful. A visit to Griselda Brook and Christopher Darwin, niece and nephew of Coke, helped fill the gaps in the life of this troubled composer; he was a homosexual at a time when it was illegal, and suffered some schizophrenic episodes in his youth. The highlight of the visit, however, was Callaghan’s discovery that the missing manuscript of the Third Concerto was safely in the hands of Christopher Darwin. The pianist has hinted that this could be a further recording project – a tantalizing prospect.
For Simon Callaghan, this recording project has clearly been a labour of love, and his persuasive advocacy of this unsung composer is to be lauded. A comprehensive biographical portrait of the composer is provided by Robert Matthew-Walker, and the booklet is adorned with some interesting black and white photographs of Coke. The Old Granary Studios, Suffolk provide a warm, sympathetic acoustic allowing this music to be showcased at its best. For me, this release has been an exciting discovery.
“Much of the reason for the positive impression this music makes has to be down to the passionate and highly skilled advocacy of pianist Simon Callaghan. I have previously enjoyed his contribution as part of a piano duet with Hiroaki Takenouchi exploring Delius’s orchestral works in their 2 piano/piano 4 hands transcriptions. This is possibly even more impressive. Coke makes great demands upon his player and Callaghan — and the Somm engineers — rise to the challenge magnificently. In reality we are unlikely to get many other versions of this repertoire any time soon so the good news is just how fine the playing is here. To learn wholly unfamiliar music such as this takes many hours — especially when Coke side-steps one’s expectations with such regularity — so the player has to be very careful to play what Coke wrote and not what he thinks he wrote.”
The Classical Reviewer, Bruce Reader
Please click the link above for the full review. Some extracts:
“A new release by Somm featuring pianist Simon Callaghan brings rewarding works by Roger Sacheverell Coke that deserve to be heard”
“After a stormy, unsettled Prelude No.6 Presto agitato, the Prelude No.7. Grazioso has some lovely harmonies, a gentle dissonance and a lovely hushed coda. No.8. Lento maestoso has gentle, rippling phrases as well as moments of hushed, suspended beauty. Callaghan gives Prelude No.9. Leggiero scherzando a lovely rhythmic lift, beautifully paced and phrased. No.10. Vivace has a fine forward, rippling flow, beautifully played here with this pianist bringing a lovely persuasive touch. The most substantial of the Op.33 set is the Prelude No.11. Andante cantabile, a gentle, finely phrased work with moments of exquisite feeling. Scriabin comes to mind a little as the music builds, Callaghan revealing it as a particularly fine piece.”
“There is a terrific Variation 6: Presto scherzando, fluently and brilliantly played and a Variation 7: Chorale – Andantino cantabile where Coke brings more of his personal touch with a hauntingly felt nostalgia. Callaghan displays a lovely touch in the rippling Variation 8: Andantino before a lovely, glowing Variation 9: Moderato, a really fine piece. Variation 10: Allegro molto energico is full of energy Coke bringing some unusual harmonies and sonorities, quite individual and finely played, full of brilliance and virtuosity.”
“For all the references that there are to Rachmaninov and Scriabin, one should not lose sight of Coke’s personal style that does emerge. These are rewarding works that deserve to be heard. This composer could not have a finer advocate than Simon Callaghan who receives an excellent recording from the Old Granary Studios, Suffolk, England. There are useful and informative notes by Robert Matthew Walker as well as a nicely illustrated booklet.”
Roger Sacheverell Coke was much appreciated as a young composer and pianist in the 1930s but his wealthy aristocratic background (he shared a piano tutor with Princess Elizabeth the future Queen) and adherence to romantic music meant that he fell out of favour. He died, his mind clouded by mental illness, as a virtual recluse in 1972.
Simon Callaghan’s assiduous research and persuasive advocacy has led to Coke’s 24 Preludes Op.33 and Op. 34 and the Op.37 15 Variations and Finale receiving their world premiere recordings. Callaghan’s spirited and skilful playing is impressive: these works are “always passionate and intensely lyrical” as he claims even if they’re not quite “lost treasures”. Rachmaninov casts a long shadow here, the fiery Op.34 Prelude 19 could pass as the genuine article, but Coke adds a touch of English pastoralism (Bax’s music was an influence) which makes for a piquant mix – well worth exploring.
“[Callaghan’s] judgement is proved spot-on, and he makes an eloquent advocate.”
“Simon Callaghan – very much a new figure, and force, in recording and performance”
Debussy’s Violin Sonata tantalisingly fuses stream-of-consciousness sensuality with structural and gestural Classical norms. Midori Komachi leans more towards the former, characterising the composer’s episodic asides with beguiling temporal flexibility and sonic allure. Simon Callaghan proves the ideal partner, subtly weighting and detailing the music’s shifting harmonic and textural profiles.
If Debussy’s Sonata can, in the wrong hands, appear structurally brittle, the shimmering languor of Delius’s Sonata no.3 can easily (if over-indulged) lose its expressive focus. Again, Komachi and Callaghan capture the music’s sound world unerringly – enhanced by the recording’s beguiling ambience – giving it sufficient room to breathe without saturating its emotional capacity. In an ideal world a slightly narrower or faster vibrato would have further improved the captivating, wistful quality of Komachi’s playing.
That said, she judges the sleek, neo-Classical lines of Ravel’s 1928 Sonata to perfection, balancing exquisitely its espressivo ‘cool’ and super-compressed nostalgic yearnings. If the modern tendency is to turn the central ‘Blues’ into a bitterly ironic statement à la Shostakovich, shattering any sense of familial connection with the opening movement, Komachi and Callaghan emphasise a sense of belonging by gently cushioning its harmonic astringencies and the finale’s moto perpetuo fury. Two Grieg songs expertly arranged by Émile Sauret end this fine recital in a radiant glow.
“If ever there was a CD in recent years that has captivated me so completely, it’s this one. Violinist Midori Komachi and pianist Simon Callaghan have put together a recital that rivals all other recordings of these works. The partnership is incredible and the insights into the subtleties of this music are so well realized that I played this CD three times before I thought I could put pen to paper.”
“The partnership is incredible […] if you only have the budget to buy one CD this year, make it this one. You will not be disappointed”
“I hope that there will be more Coke from Callaghan — he plays as if he has received the manner from on high. This is remarkable given that the music was otherwise completely unknown as a performing entity.”
I take my hat off to Ms Midori Komachi in admiration for her enterprise in realising this imaginative collection. She turns in, with pianist Simon Callaghan, very creditable performances of these colourful, off-the-beaten track works. She also contributes some interesting and erudite sleeve-notes suggesting links with Gauguin’s painting Nevermore (Delius was its first owner) and the work of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) especially his The Raven.
The Poe connection is explicit in the case of Ravel who was greatly influenced by Poe’s The Philosophy of Composition. Ravel’s Sonata was inspired by American music of jazz and blues, the second movement especially so with its reference to Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’. Komachi and Callaghan clearly relish the chance to let their hair down and make the most of their opportunity to colour this music. The movement begins with the violin emulating a banjo as we are immediately introduced to the spirit of America’s Deep South. The music proceeds with typical Ravelian quirky use of the Gershwin tune. There is another link since the American and jazz influence is apparent in a number of Delius’s compositions. The opening Allegretto is quirky and whimsical too, straddling many moods and including bell-like folk material and gypsy music as well as moments of pathos and nostalgia. The Sonata concludes with a Perpetuum Mobile.
Debussy composed his Violin Sonata shortly before his death from cancer in 1918. It was the third in a projected series of six solo sonatas – the first two being the Cello Sonata of 1915 and the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp of 1916. This sonata was premiered in May 1917 with Debussy at the piano. It was to be his last public performance. The composer referred to this sonata somewhat sardonically as ‘an example of what may be produced by a sick man in time of war’. It is a spare work but not lacking in imagination and colour. Debussy claimed that it was inspired by scenes from Pelléas and Mélisande.Komachi and Callaghan introduce us, in the first movement, to a mysterious, enigmatic world, of pathos and suffering, the violin part sometimes discordantly wiry. The central Intermède is quirky and it seemed to me to suggest a donkey running around the field rather than the opening of the Finale as Midori suggests – no matter. The finale demands the piano’s lightest most articulate touch and, from the violinist, an embracing of the maximum pitch range without an overt display of ‘showy’ virtuosity.
The Delius Sonata was a joint effort between the composer and his amanuensis, Eric Fenby. Interestingly, Midori Komachi recalls Gauguin’s ideology that “music is the language of the listening eye”. Considering Delius’s blindness, by 1930 when this Third Violin Sonata was composed, she observes, “Just like Gauguin’s Nevermore, Delius’s music opens an infinite space of imagination.” Komachi and Callaghan offer a committed and heartfelt reading of this lovely work. The opening movement just marked ‘Slow’ is a lyrical flow, the music now meandering, now soaring, now skipping. At 1.42 it broadens into one of Delius’s most effulgent melodies. The sunny Andante Scherzandomiddle movement bounces along joyfully and playfully while the concluding Lento is an often intense autumnal reflection.
One of Delius’s greatest friends was Edvard Grieg who had always supported him and encouraged Delius’s father to allow the young Frederick to follow a career in music. Grieg was also known to Ravel and Debussy. So it is fitting that the concert is rounded off with the French violinist, Émile Sauret’s attractive arrangements of two of the most popular pieces in the repertoire: Jeg elsker Dig (Ich Liebe Dich) (I love you only) and Solveigs Sang from Grieg’s Peer Gynt.
An adventurous selection of not-so-well-known sonatas delivered with aplomb.