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Eric COATES (1886-1957)
Suite: The Three Men (The Man from the Country; The
Man-about-Town; The Man from the Sea) (1935) [23:19]
Concert Valse: Dancing Night (1932) [8:12]
Two Symphonic Rhapsodies: I Pitch my Lonely Caravan; Birdsongs
at Eventide/I Heard You Singing (1933) [5:06;
Idyll: Summer Afternoon (1924) [3:53]
Ballet: The Enchanted Garden (1946) [21:11]
Concert Valse: Footlights (1939) [5:50]
Suite: Four Centuries - IV Rhythm (20th Century)
March: London Bridge (1934) [4:31]
rec. 1990s? DDD
new disc of Coates’s music is accompanied by excellent notes
by the composer’s biographer, Geoffrey Self - who also wrote
the entry on Coates in Grove’s dictionary. These are supplemented
by insightful quotations from the composer’s son, Austin.
began his career by studying the viola at the Royal Academy
of Music (RAM) with Lionel Tertis, the greatest viola player
of his time. However, he had also brought a few compositions
with him, which were noticed by Sir Alexander Mackenzie,
the Principal of the RAM. Seeing great potential, he advised
Coates to also study composition with Frederick Corder. Coates
went on to become one of the leading viola players of the
day, second only to Tertis, eventually securing the post
of leader of Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra. However,
like Holst, he began to suffer from chronic neuritis and
when Wood did not renew his contract in 1919 he stopped playing
the viola altogether and turned to full-time composition.
contract with his publisher required works of brief duration
in a more popular idiom. As result there is little of real
substance in his output, which consists in the main of popular
songs, marches and symphonic rhapsodies but no symphonies,
concertos or operas. Coates was an early advocate of jazz
and, together with the famous band-leader Jack Hylton, was
at the forefront of incorporating jazz and syncopation into
light classical music. However, this meant that his compositions
were generally derided and ignored by music critics.
this disc we have a representative mixture of this output
including a number of suites, an idyll, a march, two symphonic
rhapsodies and a ballet.
suite, The Three Men from 1935, opens the CD and is
a good example of the seamless intermingling of styles of
which Coates was master. The first movement opens in Gilbert
and Sullivan fashion, the second has elements of the 1920s ‘big
band’ sound, whilst the suite ends in true nautical fashion
(The Man from the Sea) with a rendition of “Johnny
comes down to Hilo” and “Three blind mice”. The profusion
of baroque-like fugal material and expert counterpoint reflects
the excellent grounding in composition that Coates received
at the RAM.
next item, Concert Valse: Dancing nights of 1932,
epitomises the cross-over music of the 1930s when Coates
frequently rubbed shoulders in the concert hall with more
so-called serious composers. I doubt whether it would ever
gain a place today - not highbrow enough. However, it is
beautifully scored and performed flawlessly and with great
was keen on re-using material and in the two Symphonic
rhapsodies he made use of two tunes each from his popular
songs of the 1920s. The first has an extravagant Wagnerian
opening, which is quickly transformed into music of a Puccinian
dimension before settling down to a more reflective mood.
By contrast the Second rhapsody is more tender, lush
and romantic with a strong ending. Coates had mastered many
idioms and the musical transitions are handled expertly by
Wordsworth and the LPO. The following work, the Idyll,
Summer Afternoon is another good example of the many
facets of Coates’s style, beginning with a Delian summer
afternoon by the river but soon transforming into a climax
of which Tchaikovsky would be proud and then back to Delius
again with a quiet reflective ending.
most substantial work on this disc, the ballet The Enchanted
Garden is Coates’s longest single movement at 21 minutes.
The text was written by his wife and is simple and straightforward.
It is full of glorious music. The motto theme, a “menacing
brass figure” (slightly syncopated) opens the piece and is
used to great effect to underpin the more dramatic elements
of the story. For a glimpse of Coates’s orchestral writing
virtuosity, just listen to the Straussian passage at about
4 minutes in! One sometimes wishes, with all these waltzes,
foxtrots and ragtime “will the real Eric Coates please stand
up” as so many styles are absorbed and transformed! However,
he does add his own personal stamp in the syncopation and
dance band elements which aren’t to be found in many other
composers of this period; Gershwin being perhaps the only
other example. The piece finishes with a delicious romantic
melody as the Prince and Princess are re-united and the evil
forces dispersed before fading gently away in a Delian mist.
pleasing, but somewhat inconsequential work, Concert Valse:
Footlights (1939) follows; the sort that Coates could
undoubtedly turn out in his sleep. The performance is brilliantly
penultimate piece on the disc, the last movement of the Suite:
Four centuries is archetypical Coates, full of percussion,
syncopation, big band saxophony and muted brass. Again, how
easily and eagerly the LPO assimilate the style! Although
there are similarities with American music of the 1920s,
it is important to remember that Coates is not a mimic, he
was a - if not the - pioneer.
most famous item is undoubtedly the last piece on the disc,
the march London Bridge (the theme of “In Town
Tonight”), an exuberant, brash, bustling, no-nonsense
march which could only have come from the pen of Eric Coates.
It is his equivalent of Elgar’s Cockaigne (“In
London town”) with which there is a certain similarity.
It concludes with a Sullivanesque combination of the two
main themes. A superbly brisk and zippy performance.
this disc one is frankly amazed by the virtuosity and panache
of the LPO in music which cannot be familiar - as it may
be for the BBC Concert Orchestra. Despite the often fast
tempi the LPO are never caught out and consistently deliver.
Coates himself would have been proud of these performances,
as he tended to push things along when conducting his own
music - as he was often invited to do in the 1920s and 1930s.
some classical music lovers may tire after a while of the
rather superficial nature of much of the music and the inability
to achieve real intensity of feeling, hearing it played by
a fine symphony orchestra is, at times, a revelation. What
a pity Coates’s music has been consigned to the scrap-heap
and is now rarely if ever programmed, unlike the more popular
music of the more “serious” composers.
is a highly enjoyable disc, expertly played and interpreted.
It certainly grew on me after second and subsequent hearings.
Strongly recommended for those who are not irredeemably and
irreconcilably prejudiced against “light” classical music
and who enjoy their music superbly crafted and played!
see also reviews by Rob
Barnett and Jonathan Woolf
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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