Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.6 in B minor Op.74 Pathétique (1893) [42:25]
Marche Slave Op.31 (1876) [8:33]
Romeo and Juliet – fantasy overture (1869 rev 1879, 1880) [20:04]
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
Ruslan and Ludmila – overture (1842) [3:59]

London Symphony Orchestra/Albert Coates

rec. 1926-30, London
Albert Coates has always stimulated the interest of the historically-minded collector. Naturally that is because his performances are stamped with his unique personality – mainly volcanic, and often the purveyor of sizzling accelerandi. But there is another reason to seek out recordings by him, which is that some are very rare. This may seem puzzling, given the wide currency many projects enjoyed on HMV and its American affiliate. But it remains true for a small percentage of his recordings and such is the case for all but the Symphony in this release.
Some may well have acquainted themselves with this Sixth, largely recorded in Kingsway Hall, London, and transmitted down the phone line to the Small Queen’s Hall. The lightness of bass frequencies has led Ward Marston to boost them somewhat. The pressings are Italian HMVs, quieter than British ones.
The performance is commanding, charged and full of Coates’s typical authentic-sounding control of the ebb and flow of the music’s syntax. Its luscious elasticity burgeons splendidly in his hands, and the LSO plays with distinction, if not always immaculate discipline – it hardly bothered me when the voltage meter is set so high. The expressive power led me to consider what the state of affairs might have been had Coates been allowed to record Wagner operas in the late 30s, to supplement his extensive but creaky sounding earlier performances.
HMV was still using bass reinforcements at this time, despite the fact that this was an electrical recording. Maybe the land line recording encouraged them still further in the belief that a galumphing bass was needed, but to our ears it most certainly isn’t. So the demerit of the second movement is the huffing and puffing element engendered by the unnecessary bass, whilst the plus is the often lovely and affectionate string portamentos. Coates is typically in his element in this work, and directs the finale with huge and communicative élan. If you listen carefully you can hear the first movement side change following which a later recording was used, not taken via landline. You can also hear the perfectly appropriate side join at around 4:20 in the finale.
After the incendiary delights of Coates’ Sixth, we turn to the rarities. Marche Slave is jubilant and proto-Ivesian in its mesh of sounds. It’s a rare disc, recorded in October 1930. Romeo and Juliet was recorded in October 1928. It’s glowering, gloomy, colourful, exciting and passionate by turns – piece and performance. It was, for some reason, only ever issued on Czech HMVs. Lucky them! The filler was Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila overture – not as amazing as Mravinsky’s, but showing Coates in dynamic form once again.
Fine transfers ensure that Coates’ message comes across loud and clear.
Jonathan Woolf
Fine transfers ensure that Coates’ message comes across loud and clear.