The chord of B flat begins the Scherzando second movement with the clarinet’s irregular eight-bar theme spinning around the music like a skittishly playful kitten. The 2/4 pulse is constant, the syncopation and cross-rhythms are all the more effective for being felt against an unvaried metre. The movement is virtually monothematic, the composer’s remarkable resourcefulness extracting much from such a tiny cell. The slow movement, Adagio ma non troppo, begins in the somewhat surprising key of D flat minor. The movement enshrines the emotional heart of the work, but Cooke does not display it on his sleeve: rather is the emotion understated, in a Leibnitzian manner. The form is tripartite, the central section auxetic in expression. The finale, Molto vivace, restores B flat in a fleet and infectious movement with rondo elements. The composer makes great play of unusual rhythmic pulse, and humour is always bubbling underneath. An exciting moment in the coda combines the piano’s basic 6/8 with a 3/4 clarinet figure before four great allargando chords reinforce the home tonic with splendidly affirmative rhetoric.
A feature of the clarinet part in this work is the use of the rising octave: a characteristic of the instrument that was suggested to the composer before he accepted the commission. Of all wind instruments, it is perhaps the clarinet which can encompass this best, and Cooke’s writing reveals this aspect of the instrument admirably. One final small point is Cooke’s deliberate avoidance of the major or minor mode within his title. This acknowledges his own fluid harmonic thinking, but should prepare the listener, as the composer often keeps us guessing—is it major or minor?—until the very last moment.
from notes by Howard Ferguson and Robert Matthew-Walker © 1997