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Eric COATES (1886–1957)
Orchestral Works, Volume 1
The Merrymakers, a Miniature Overture (1922–23) [4:32]
The Jester at the Wedding : Suite from the Ballet (1932) [24:34]
Dancing Nights, Concert Valse (1931) [7:20]
Ballad, Op.2, for String Orchestra (1904) [5:52]
Two Symphonic Rhapsodies on Popular Songs (1933) [9:34]
By the Sleepy Lagoon, Valse-Serenade (1930) [3:57]
London (London Everyday) Suite for Orchestra: Covent Garden, Westminster, Knightsbridge (1932) [14:07]
BBC Philharmonic/John Wilson
rec. MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester; 9 and 10 January 2019. DDD.
Reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from chandos.net.
CHANDOS CHAN20036 [70:39]

The music of Eric Coates has done pretty well on record. Chandos themselves have contributed handsomely with The Symphonic Eric Coates, also with the BBC Philharmonic, but conducted by Rumon Gamba (CHAN9869 – review DL Roundup July 2011/1). With just the London Suite in common with the new, the older recording remains well worth having – and it’s on offer as a download at a 25% discount from chandos.net as I write, in mp3, 16- and 24-bit.

Other notable offerings include Boult conducts Coates (Lyrita SRCD.246 – review review review) and the budget-price 2-CD The Music of Eric Coates, containing performances directed by Sir Charles Groves, Sir Charles Mackerras and Reginald Kilbey (Warner Classics for Pleasure 3523562, around £8). Coates’ own recordings from 1923 to 1957 have been gathered together on an 8-CD set from Nimbus Alliance (NI6231 – review review review). There’s also a 2-CD distillation from that set on NI7106 – review – and some single-CD selections at budget price on Naxos Historical. Also a surprisingly idiomatic Marco Polo recording with the Slovak Radio Orchestra containing the two London Suites (8.223445 – download only in mp3 and lossless from eclassical.com). See December 2010 DL Roundup. Another valuable Lyrita release of Coates comes from the LPO and Barry Wordsworth (SRCD.213 – review).

With all that available, any new Coates offering has to be special, as, for example, in offering 24-bit sound. The new Chandos ticks that box, as does the earlier one, but anything recorded by John Wilson is usually special. Not only does he do wonders with film and other light music with his own orchestra, he has recently recorded the more serious music of Eric Korngold for Chandos, including his Symphony (CHSA5220, review). That’s with the revived Sinfonia of London, an orchestra drawn from the top London players who used to record for EMI1 and their offshoot World Record Club, and the new recording comes with the BBC Philharmonic. He’s a pluralist by merit.

The well-known Merrymakers Overture gets the new recording off to an excellent start. The tempo comes within seconds of my benchmark, Mackerras on Classics for Pleasure, but tempo is only half the picture and the performance comes with oodles of the same delight in the music as from Sir Charles – praise enough for me. If you doubt that this is the right tempo, it’s also very close to Coates’ own on Nimbus.

The Jester at the Wedding suite has not often been recorded in its entirety, though single items have been. Apart from the composer’s own recording on Nimbus and Naxos, there seems to be only one other complete version, and even Coates recorded only two numbers. I can’t say that it comes with as many memorable moments as the better-known Coates, but I did enjoy hearing this performance.

Nor does Dancing Nights appear too often – perhaps it sounds too Ivor Novello? John Wilson has an earlier (1998) recording, with the BBC Concert Orchestra, on an ASV collection: Coates The Enchanted Garden (CDWHL212, Presto special CD, or download). That’s well worth considering for the ballet which gives the album its title until, as I expect, it’s superseded by a later volume in the Chandos series. The same applies to Wilson’s very fine recording of London Again and other Coates music with the RLPO; this time there’s no overlap at all with the new Chandos (Avie AV2070: Recording of the Month – review). In both cases Wilson gives Dancing Nights a little more time to breathe than Coates himself.

The two Symphonic Rhapsodies also fare well on the new recording. Don’t be put off by the titles; there’s plenty of Coates magic here, too.

Someone as ancient as myself must have heard By the Sleepy Lagoon almost as often as having had hot dinners, if only with added seagulls as the introduction to BBC Radio Desert Island Discs. No seagulls here, but a seductive performance that reminds us of the title valse-serenade which Coates gave it. At just over four minutes, Wilson allows us to laze on that Desert Island a whole minute longer than Mackerras with the LSO in 1965 or Coates himself (Nimbus), who may have adopted the fast-ish pace to get the music on one 78 side.

In the faster items of the London Suite, however, there’s no missing the bustling crowds on the new recording. If you had forgotten that Covent Garden is subtitled ‘tarantelle’, Wilson hasn’t, though he equally doesn’t force the pace too much: here he’s within seconds of the timing of Groves and the RLPO. One small point: Coates often uses popular tunes or distinctive sounds2 for effect; here it’s Cherry Ripe, a reminder that Covent Garden was a fruit market, and other performances bring out the underlying tune a little more effectively. The other side of the coin is that Wilson’s Coates is never blatant, and there’s no harm in making the listener listen closely even to ‘light’ music, just as the attentive listener hears the ‘borrowings’ in Bach, Vivaldi, Handel or Mahler.

Westminster is subtitled ‘meditation’ – not much of that since Brexit brought the protesters out opposite Parliament – and, again, Wilson reads it at very much the same ruminative pace as Groves. If anything, Wilson and the BBC Phil make the music sound almost Elgarian, a reminder that the GOM used to snap up all Coates’ recordings as they were issued.

The Knightsbridge March used to preface the long-running (1933-1960) but long-defunct radio programme In Town Tonight. Once again Wilson and the classic Groves account are very much on the same page; neither forces the pace, but both keep the music moving – a touch more so than Rumon Gamba on The Symphonic Eric Coates. If the aim of the earlier Chandos Coates album was to remind us that his music is worth treating with respect, Groves and Mackerras had already achieved that and the new recording serves as a very valuable extra reminder.

With good recording, especially as heard in 24-bit sound, I’m very much looking forward to Volume 2.  Did I mention the snazzy cover?  And how about a Ketèlbey album from this team to supplement Chandos’ very serviceable budget-price The Grand Passions of Albert W. Ketèlbey (Collect CHAN6676)?

1 Notably the wonderful account of Elgar Introduction and Allegro and Serenade for Strings, with Barbirolli (Warner 0851872).
2 Such as the bus-conductor’s call in Piccadilly.

Brian Wilson



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