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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Cecil COLES (1888-1918)
Music From Behind The Lines:

Overture: The Comedy of Errors (1909-11)
Fra Giacomo (1913)
Scherzo in A minor (1909-11)
Four Verlaine Songs: "Fantastic in appearance", "A slumber vast and black", "Pastoral: The sky above the roof", "Let’s dance the jig" (1909)
From the Scottish Highlands (1903)
Behind the Lines (1918)
Sarah Fox, soprano, Paul Whelan, baritone.
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
Rec. City Hall, Glasgow on 12 and 13 December 2001 DDD
HYPERION CDA67293 [62'44]



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Coles' life has been perfectly well covered in the two other reviews on this site (Pamela Blevins and Ian Lace) and I refer you to them. I would only remind the reader that Holst thought highly enough of Coles to dedicate to him a work that stands, with the Hymn of Jesus, the Choral Symphony and Egdon Heath, as his most masterly and deeply affecting music: the Ode to Death.

The Comedy of Errors overture is light on its feet, embracing the fantasy of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and the drama of Schumann's Fourth Symphony. I would never have guessed from the tragic foreboding that transfixes the opening bars that this focused on A Comedy of Errors; more like The Duchess of Malfi or Titus Andronicus (now that would have made a great opera for Puccini) or Macbeth. It becomes a mite plodding towards the end and the semi-quote of Beethoven's 'fate' motif from the Fifth Symphony can distract. However this certainly merits the title 'grand overture'. Grandeur and colour romp through the Scherzo which has some of the sweep of Massenet's orchestral suites - drama and humour.

There are two vocal works. Fra Giacomo has the admirable Paul Whelan as solo baritone. This is defiant and touched with the enchantment of Elgar's Second Symphony. It has affinities with the delicate operatic mastery of Schreker and Zemlinsky. The little cycle of Four Verlaine Songs is also dramatic. Here the style is somewhat impressionistic though largely in touch with Dvořák or more often Elgar (as in Sea Pictures). Let's dance the jig is explosively mephistophelian.

Do not look for anything terribly original in the first two movements of the suite From the Scottish Highlands. They trace a Tchaikovskian path from the rum-ti-tum Massenet-style jollity of the Prelude through the lilt of the Love-Scene (rather brisk I thought) to the resentful Elgarian oratory of the bitter Lament - a most impressive movement to appear after two so much lighter episodes. From Behind the Lines, the flighty little Estaminet de Carrefour is a bustling piece of Englishry (comparable with Bantock's Old English Suite and with moments from Vaughan Williams' Hugh the Drover) ending with a Lehár style waltz. The Cortege has been orchestrated by Martyn Brabbins. It has a grim jaw-set rather like the Lament from the Scottish Highlands. The side-drum and the general air of funereal splendour brings out parallels with Havergal Brian's To Valour and Tchaikovsky's Hamlet. I detect a discreet Scottish skirl somewhere in there as well.

Coles' music as presented here is a startling discovery and an unfulfilled promise of yet greater things. He had an adept talent for lighter fare conjoined with the drama of the concert scena and the roughened extremes of tragedy. The language stays within a compass bounded by Stanford, Elgar, Massenet and Tchaikovsky.

Can we hope now that Hyperion will be moved to record a selection of the orchestral music of Jane Joseph - another Holst acolyte who died young?

Rob Barnett

see also review by Pamela Blevins and Ian Lace



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