Quarterly Review, Stuart Millson
“Simon Callaghan – very much a new figure, and force, in recording and performance”
A new figure and force
Quarterly Review, Stuart Millson
Gramophone, Jeremy Dibble
The Times, Stephen Pettitt
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.
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.
Sidmouth Herald, Stephen Huyshe-Shires
Musical Opinion, James Palmer
“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.”
The Observer, Stephen Pritchard
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.
MusicWeb International, Stephen Greenbank
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.
“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 Birmingham Post, Norman Stinchcombe
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.
The Strad, Julian Haylock
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.
Music & Vision, Geoff Pearce
“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”
MusicWeb International, Ian Lace
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.