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.