Eric COATES (1886-1957)
Orchestral Works - Volume 2
London Bridge, March (1934) [4:07]
The Selfish Giant, a Phantasy for Orchestra (1925) [9:38]
Wood Nymphs: Valsette (1917) [3:21]
The Enchanted Garden, a Ballet (1938) [18:50]
For Your Delight, Serenade (1937) [3:41]
Summer Days Suite (1919) [10:55]
Lazy Night, Valse Romance (1931) [2:46]
Calling All Workers, March (1940) [3:05]
BBC Philharmonic/John Wilson
rec. 14-15 November 2019, MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20148 [57:00]
Brian Wilson has given a perceptive review of this CD in these pages. Part of his study explores past recordings of many of these pieces. Jonathan Woolf investigates differences in timings and stylistic parameters between various recordings. I do not intend to repeat this valuable and interesting information.
First, there is nothing new here. As an Eric Coates fan, I have heard all this music in the past, mainly on CD and record; nevertheless, there are some relative rarities which are a pleasure to revisit.
The concert opens with the less-often heard London Bridge: March written in 1934. This was composed shortly after the phenomenal success of the Knightsbridge March, from the London Every Day Suite. It is devised in Coates ‘standard’ march formula and was premiered on the popular In Town Tonight programme. The recording of this work had been captured by Pathé News. Geoffrey Self (In Town Tonight, Thames Publishing, 1986) has suggested that this March ‘is hardly in the same class for its main theme is hopelessly tied to the word-rhythm of the title and becomes monotonous because it cannot develop.' Despite this negative criticism, I enjoyed this work. There is a sense of energy about this music that suggests the bustle of the both the famous bridge and the adjacent railway station.
The Selfish Giant, a Phantasy for Orchestra (1925) is rarely heard. It is one of a series of ‘Phantasies’ that were written with Coates’s son Austin in mind: a celebration of fairy-tales and bedtime reading. The others include those based on The Three Bears and Cinderella. The plot of The Selfish Giant is centred around Oscar Wilde’s evergreen tale; remember the giant who would not allow children to play in his dismal winter garden, but his mood softens and the garden blooms. There is, alas, a sad note: with the coming of spring: the giant dies, albeit peacefully, covered in white blossom. Listen for the orchestral onomatopoeia of bird sounds and little scurrying furry creatures. Much of the magic is created by Coates’ syncopated style and his use of the foxtrot as a kind of underlying motif.
Many listeners will have heard The Enchanted Garden in one of its earlier recordings. I was introduced to this work on the recording by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Lanchbery on the old HMV Greensleeves label (ESD 7062). Interestingly, Eric Coates never recorded this work.
Much of the music or The Enchanted Garden had been used in an unpublished ballet entitled Snowdrop (1930), which was based on the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Some years later, Coates planned to revise this score, but Disney’s iconic film (1937) made this project unworkable due to possible copyright issues, so in 1938 Coates reworked this ambitious ‘ballet’ as The Enchanted Garden. Regardless of being subtitled ‘ballet’ it was not really meant for dance performance. It is, in fact, a fully blown symphonic poem, which pushes the ‘light music’ genre to its limits. Inspired by his garden at Ivy Grange, Sidlesham and using a new ‘book’ devised by his wife, Coates proceeded to create his latest score. He wrote that he ‘was inspired to write it by the owls screeching by night and the small birds singing by day in my garden.’ The plot is the usual battle between good and evil. There is a definite ogre (how wicked?) in the Garden as well as the Good Prince and Princess. The outcome of this ‘cosmic struggle’ is never in doubt.
Geoffrey Self (op. cit.) has given us a paradigm for listening to this tone-poem. He reminds the listener that The Enchanted Garden ‘is no Delian Summer Garden, rather it is an enchanted forest - Bax like…’
This work is ambitious and was one of few works scored for a full symphony orchestra. Most of his other music could be played by a ‘pier end’ outfit that often had to rely on an adventurous system of cues to make up for missing instruments.
I first discovered Eric Coates’s Summer Days Suite in a piano reduction I had borrowed from the Coatbridge Public Library in Lanarkshire during my schooldays. I remember trying it out on the piano. For me it was a non-starter; like much of Coates’s music, the piano arrangements are not easy to play - at least not for a Grade 5! I did manage to pick out a few bars of the magical second movement, ‘On the Edge of the Lake’ (The Isla of the Waters) and the melody of that piece has remained with me ever since. There is surely a hint of Highland Heather in this movement, despite the use of the word ‘lake’ rather than ‘loch’. Here we have Coates almost out Delius-ing Delius. The first movement is a little rustic romp which certainly fits the bill for ‘In a Country Lane’. I guess we must recall that this was completed on 18 November 1918, only seven days after the Armistice. It is part of what ‘we were fighting for.’ The final movement, ‘At the Dance’ is one of Coates’s greatest waltzes. An anecdote states that Edward Elgar loved this suite so much that he wore out his record of the work.
Three short pieces are included. The first, Wood Nymphs: Valsette was written in 1917. It was originally for a stage production, an ‘elfin ballet’ and the music sparkles from start to finish. It is evocative of happy, lazy days, despite being composed during the First World War and was one of the composer’s earliest successes. The Serenade, For Your Delight, was written to a commission in 1937. The entire piece is characterised by a ‘gentle but catchy melody.’ Lazy Night is one of those works that is a sheer delight to listen to. For me, it is a perfect musical evocation of some rural retreat or perhaps an early evening stroll in a London Square.
The final work on this CD is the March: Calling All Workers. It carries the inscription ‘To go to one’s work with a glad heart and to do that work with earnestness and goodwill’. The story goes that Coates was coy about the title until the first broadcast performance. Interestingly, the actual title was inspired by a Hollywood film, where one of the actors playing a ‘G-man’, spoke the words ‘Calling all Cars.’ The rest is history. The March was adopted by the BBC for the programme ‘Music while you Work’ which ran for some 27 years and was heard five days a week.
The BBC Philharmonic’s performance under the baton of John Wilson is perfect. It is always good to hear Coates’s music played well, and without any condescension. The liner notes, by Richard Bratby provide all the information needed to add value to this CD. Eccentrically, the order of pieces in the booklet notes does not match the track order of the CD. The sound recording is ideal.
This is the second volume of what may result in a complete cycle of Coates’ orchestral music. Let us hope that subsequent future releases appear soon. There is certainly a lot of music still to be recorded for this project.
Previous reviews: Brian Wilson ~ Jonathan Woolf