Footlights Concert Valse
The Three Men Suite
The Selfish Giant A Phantasy
London Again Suite
Cinderella A Phantasy
Summer Days Suite
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded on 7 & 8 October 2003 in Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2005
CD No: AVIE RECORDS AV2070
Duration: 79 minutes
This is light music of high craft, and is superbly performed here – with real style and genuine affection.
Eric Coates (1886-1957) was first a violist, initially as a chamber musician and then as a principal in Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra. As a composer he created numerous indelible melodies (not least those used for “Music While You Work” and “Desert Island Discs”) and was a fine orchestrator.
This CD begins with a charming waltz, not a million miles away from Léhar’s Gold and Silver. The Three Men Suite is one of Coates’s finest achievements, bursting with invention and imaginative scoring, and with plenty of ‘harmonic heart’ that reminds of Vaughan Williams’s treatment of folk material. John Lanchbery and the Sydney Symphony made an effervescent recording of this for EMI; John Wilson slightly pips it, a rendition of vivacity and tenderness, tempos spot-on, in which Coates’s scoring is fully relished.
After some terrifically swinging music – try the bluesy saxophone in the second movement (‘The man about town’) and a delicious sea-shanty finale – the opening of The Selfish Giant conjures a specific landscape (again reminding of Vaughan Williams) that begins a sort of dramatic ballad for orchestra, one always friendly and descriptive, which holds good for Cinderella, too – it begins with a teasing clarinet solo, flexibly phrased here, and which draws on more waltz measures.
Of Coates’s two London suites, this one is the less familiar of his musical portraits of landmarks of the capital; music of irrepressible bounce in the outer movements – the finale is another waltz, a suave one for ‘Mayfair’ – and a very beautiful slow movement for ‘Langham Place’, rather profound, in fact; it just sucks you in. This of course is a London now gone, except for its monuments; good to have a musical reminder of days of yore.
Summer Days Suite is a delightfully placid collection – calm lakes, rolling hills, gambolling sheep, and picnics. The Television March, opening with a hint of Fucik’s Entry of the Gladiators, was composed to mark the return of television broadcasting, post-war, in June 1946.
If Coates had a tendency to over-score at times, and be a little bombastic, there’s no doubting his feeling and bonhomie. John Wilson is really inside this good-natured music and has the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic completely on his side; indeed all seem to be having a whale of a time.
The recording, first thought to be a little cavernous and too soft-grained, is of excellent quality: smooth, even laid-back, but with a dynamic expanse and natural lucidity that is something of a treat given some of the ‘in your face’ DDDs that are around.
Hopefully, a second volume of Coates from this team will be forthcoming – Merrymakers Overture, Dambusters, Three Elizabeths, the first London Suite, et al. Indeed it is an urgent requirement. Sir Charles Groves, who recorded Coates’s music, and who was a vital force in the work of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, is quoted in the (excellent) booklet as saying that “Eric Coates was a gentle and quietly spoken man but his music crackled with enthusiasm and vitality.” It certainly does here.