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Sonata for clarinet and piano in B flat major


Arnold Cooke studied for several years in the late 1920s with Paul Hindemith at the Hochschule in Berlin. (It was there that he met his fellow pupil, Franz Reizenstein. The two became close friends. Following Reizenstein’s emigration to England in 1934 their friendship deepened and continued until Reizenstein’s early death in 1968.) In Arnold Cooke’s impressive output there are three important works for the clarinet. A fine Concerto dates from 1955, and an equally impressive Clarinet Quintet followed the Sonata in 1962. The Sonata in B flat was written in response to a commission from the Hampton Music Club, and was first performed by Thea King with James Gibb at a recital in the Drawing Room of the Arts Council in London later the same year. It is a substantial piece in four movements. The first begins with a long bipartite theme of fourteen bars, the first four being the most important as they give rise to the theme’s extension and generate much of the movement’s argument. The music grows naturally and with finely controlled logic, yet remains fanciful and imaginative, and the wide-ranging development constantly discloses new facets of the material itself further developed. The coda is quiet, but not exhausted, as the B flat major, veiled for so long in the course of the movement, is planted solidly in the bass.

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


English Music for Clarinet
CDD220272CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)


Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Track 5 on CDD22027 CD2 [6'03] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Movement 2: Scherzando
Track 6 on CDD22027 CD2 [3'28] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Movement 3: Adagio ma non troppo
Track 7 on CDD22027 CD2 [6'13] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Movement 4: Molto vivace
Track 8 on CDD22027 CD2 [3'29] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)

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