Coles' life has been perfectly well covered in the
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?
see also review
by Pamela Blevins and Ian Lace