MusicWeb

This nicely produced CD features organ music composed during 2004 by the young English composer James Cook. We are told little about him except that he is a one-time composition student at Oxford University and has worked at Eton College. He is a prolific composer of choral music.

The music is a little hard to describe; probably it’s an acquired taste. It never seems in a hurry to get anywhere and in general I missed a certain amount of direction or purpose. Unusually for organ literature counterpoint plays no significant role. Rather, meandering melodies with rather triadic harmonies abound. Occasionally modal or even bi-tonal elements present themselves. Heavily featured are non-musical inspirations, most especially the writings of 17th century puritans. James Cook’s notes for the CD are full and informative.

If you have a taste for Cook’s music then Divine Art can go some way to assuaging your hunger. There are two other Cook discs in their catalogue. Each presents Cook’s sacred choral music sung by Voces Oxenienses. The first is ‘Heaven’s Happiness’where the choral director is Michael McCarthy; Rufus Frowde (organ) 25023. The second CD is ‘The Way to Heaven’ conductor Rufus Frowde with Iestyn Evans (organ) on 25027.

The present CD was recorded in Harris Manchester College Chapel in Oxford. The instrument began life in 1893 as a 23 stop Gray and Davison but was substantially enlarged in 1930 by Nicholson and later tweaked in the early 1970s when the inevitable mutations were added to the choir. In general the organ sounds well, despite the dry acoustic. I couldn’t help feeling though that the music might have taken on more stature on a better organ, and perhaps in a larger room. This implies no criticism of Myles Hartley, a former organ scholar of St George’s Windsor and now a post-graduate research student at Oxford. His playing can hardly be faulted.

Worth picking up for explorers of the organ repertoire’s more unknown corners or for somebody interested in a recording of an otherwise un-recorded instrument.

—Chris Bragg