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Boult conducts Coates; Boult conducts Marches
Eric COATES (1886-1957)
The Merrymakers Overture (1923) [4:40]
Summer Days Suite (1919) [11:35]
From Meadow to Mayfair Suite (1931) [8:19]
The Three Elizabeths Suite - March Queen Elizabeth (1944) [5:12]
The Three Bears - Phantasy (1927) [9:44]
March The Dambusters (1954) [4:02]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Children’s March Over the Hills and far away (1918, 1928) [3:55]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1924)
Marche Caprice (1890) [3:23]
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Hamlet: Funeral March (1947) [4:44]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Wasps: March past of the kitchen utensils (1909) [3:04]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868) (arranged by Benjamin Britten)
Soirées Musicales: March (1936) [1:28]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Suite in E flat Op.28 No.1: March (1909) [3:00]
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 9 November, 6 December 1976 (Coates); 15 August, 19 September, 13 November 1976 (other items). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.246 [63.08]



This CD has more to do with tying up some interesting loose ends than delivering a major addition to the English Music catalogue. If this seems a little unfair then I can only apologise. There must be two dozen recordings of Eric Coates’ ubiquitous Dam Busters March, so perhaps another is not essential? However this present disc is the only place today where the listener can hear Sir Adrian Boult conducting this work. On the other side of the coin it is probably important that we do not lose this great conductor’s reading of such musical lightweights as the March Caprice by Fred Delius or the attractive but fleeting Soirées Musicales March by Britten. I guess that these two works along with the Walton, Holst, RVW and Grainger numbers are orphans from the Lyrita re-release programme and have found a convenient home on this CD. Interestingly the best march from the original vinyl record of ‘Marches’ was Parry’s Bridal March from Aristophanes and this is included on SRCD.220 – an all-Parry disc.

But it is to the Eric Coates that we must look for the true value of this disc. I freely admit that this so-called ‘light music’ composer often moves me more than some of the more serious candidates including Beethoven himself. There is something deeply comforting about pieces such as the Merrymakers Overture and the Three Bears Fantasy. My mother would probably have said that it was the musical equivalent of nursery food – Ginger Sponge, Bread and Butter Pudding and Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Nothing to do with the consistency of the mixture, I hasten to add – more to do with the feel-good factor!

As people get older they often look to the age of their infancy and see there a kind of Golden Age – a fairer and more pleasant land where everything was ‘decent and in order’, when life was quite simply, simpler. Eric Coates’ music takes me into a world of Routemaster Buses, steam trains, seaside holidays at Morecambe and Hillman Minx cars. It is very easy to allow ones mind to drift down country lanes and linger at the edge of leaf-fringed lakes. If I was honest I see this music in the same tones as 1950s British Railway posters – a kind of idealised England. Yet it is the kind of England that I would really like to live in. Someone once said that realism can realistically be a gas works in the East End of London or it can be the view from Box Hill in Surrey with your lover on your arm. Yet it is only a certain kind of mentality that insists that there is a greater artistic merit to the industrial as opposed to the pastoral. I remember that my late father used to say that he would rather watch a film of a beautiful lady combing her gorgeous hair than watch a docker cleaning his teeth – remember the kitchen sink dramas? Coates presents the listener with a musical image that makes us feel better and this can only be to the good.

Two thirds of this present CD is devoted to some of the best and most popular of Eric Coates’ music. I guess that only Calling All Workers, the Knightsbridge March and the Sleepy Lagoon music stops this CD being the ideal introduction to the composer’s work. We have the perfectly contented Merrymaker’s Overture that Coates wrote when living in the London suburb of St. John’s Wood. This is not ‘sturm und drang’ but a perfect evocation of ‘Summer in the City’. Of course the Three Bears Fantasy is or ought to be a favourite with everyone. I have always imagined it as a ballet and wonder if it has ever been performed as such? I just love Sir Adrian’s interpretation of the Dambuster’s March – the counter-themes are brought out in a way that I have never been conscious of in dozens of hearings. It must by my favourite version!

I believe that Eric Coates’ many ‘suites’ are amongst his best works. In fact it could be easily argued that they are ‘symphony-ettes.’ Of course there is no attempt at creating ‘sonata’ or ‘cyclic’ form movements. Yet there is a coherence about these suites that often compares to, or exceeds symphonic works by ‘greater’ and more ‘serious’ composers. The whole of the charming Summer’s Day Suite is given: this work is always a pleasure to listen to. It is Eric Coates at his descriptive best.

My only concern on this is that somehow the second movement, A Song by the Way, of the Meadow to Mayfair Suite seems to have got lost on this recording. Perhaps Boult did not record it?

The March: Queen (Princess) Elizabeth as presented here should really be lumped in with the marches rather than the ‘suites’. Once again I regret that the other two movements - including the idyllic Elizabeth of Glamis - are not included. However the piece is played superbly and in my opinion outclasses all the other marches on this CD - including the Walton and the Holst!

A great issue that tidies up a few loose ends. Not a CD to rush out to buy, but certainly one that all lovers of Eric Coates’ music and admirers of Sir Adrian Boult’s conducting and personality will insist on having in their collection. Of course music enthusiasts of a certain age will already have the vinyl originals in their collection – but it is great to have this available in CD format.

John France

see also review by Jonathan Woolf , Rob Barnett

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