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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. MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester; 14 and 15 November 2019. DDD.
Reviewed as lossless (wav) press preview.
CHANDOS CHAN20148 [57:08]

If there’s one composer whose music fits perfectly into the artficial gap between the popular and the serious, it has to be Eric Coates. The Strauss family will do it in certain moods, but operetta doesn’t hit the spot for me, apart from Orphée aux Enfers, with its upside-down approach to Gluck’s opera. Other British composers will do nicely, too, including Robert Farnon, a Canadian who became an adopted Brit, but Coates surpasses them all.

British light music even seems to travel well, if the series of Marco Polo recordings with European orchestras is any indication. These include:
- Ernest Tomlinson - Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ernest Tomlinson: 8.223513 and 8.223413
- Samuel Coleridge-Taylor - RTE Concert Orchestra/Adrian Leaper: 8.223516
- Ronald Binge - Kenneth Edge (saxophone); Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ernest Tomlinson: 8.223515
- Miniatures (British Light Music) - RTE Concert Orchestra/Ernest Tomlinson: 8.223522
- Ron Goodwin - New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Ron Goodwin: 8.223518
- Robert Farnon - Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Leaper: 8.223401
- Billy Mayerl: Aquarium Suite and other works - Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gary Carpenter: 8.223514
- Ketèlbey: In a Monastery Garden, Chal Romano and other works - Slovak Philharmonic Male Chorus, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Leaper

Most of these are still available on CD; all can be downloaded. Among those which are now download only are two recordings of music by Eric Coates: 8.223445 and 8.223521 – review. These, along with the Ketèlby – the accent was an affectation – are the least important, with so much by both composers available on other recordings. Or so I would have thought, till I noticed that Ketèlby’s music seems to have dropped off the cliff, apparently with just the Marco Polo and the Decca World of Ketèlby devoted entirely to his music – the Decca available as a Presto special CD or as a download.

For many years my go-to recording for Eric Coates has been a super-budget 2-CD set on Classics for Pleasure, an amalgam of EMI recordings with Sir Charles Groves, Sir Charles Mackerras and Reginald Kilbey; it’s still available on Warner CfP 3523562 – snap it up while it remains, because so many CfP recordings have disappeared or become download only, and now cost more than the CDs. This, too, while costing around £8 on CD, is offered as a lossless download for £11.08 or more – and no booklet.

If you have the CfP CDs, or are intending to buy it, only one items is common to that and the new recording, Calling all Workers, of which more anon. Indeed, the CfP and the Chandos would complement each other very well.

Two recordings of more recent vintage began the process of bringing his music to a new audience: Chandos released a collection entitled The Symphonic Eric Coates in 2002, a very fine recording from Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic (CHAN9869 – review DL Roundup July 2011/1) which would make an excellent introduction to Coates had Chandos not shot themselves in the foot and duplicated much of the material on the new recording and its Volume 1 predecessor. Even then, with just The Selfish Giant in common with Volume 2, the Gamba still well worth considering.

Another revelatory recording came from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 2005; entitled London Again, it was conducted by none other than John Wilson (Avie AV2070: Recording of the Month – review). It contains two works repeated on the new Chandos – The Selfish Giant and the Summer Days Suite.

And that brings us to the two new Chandos recordings on which Wilson conducts the BBC Philharmonic. In October 2019, I made Volume 1 a Recommended recording – review. I said then that, with so many fine alternatives on offer, any new recording of Coates had to be very special – and it is: almost as special as Wilson’s earlier recording with the Sinfonia of London which placed the Korngold symphony back where it belongs in the repertoire, (CHSA5220: Recording of the Month – review). I also said that I was very much looking forward to a follow-up Coates album – and here it is, with, I hope, even more to come.

The new programme is book-ended by two marches. London Bridge, which opens proceedings, is more usually performed by a military band; it doesn’t get too many outings in its orchestral form. Coates himself recorded it – available from Nimbus in the complete Definitive Eric Coates (NI6231 – review review review review) or the shorter 2-CD selection (NI7106). Barry Wordsworth recorded it with the LPO on a very desirable Lyrita CD of Coates’ music (SRCD.213 – review), and that’s my benchmark which the new Wilson recording equals and even excels.

Em Marshall, reviewing the Lyrita, is mistaken in thinking that London Bridge was the theme tune for In Town Tonight – that was the Knightsbridge March – but right to describe the performance as ‘superbly brisk and zippy’. Somehow, Wilson contrives to be even more superbly brisk and zippy – a splendid way to get the new recording off to a flying start. His tempo matches the composer’s own, and Coates may well have been pushing the music to cram it onto one 78 side.

Coates also recorded the Summer Days Suite – on Nimbus, as above, or from Naxos (8.110173 – review). As John France wrote, in reviewing the Nimbus, this rarely-heard music crosses over into something that Delius might have written. Elgar apparently played his copy so often that he wore it out. John Wilson has edited the music, so the performance is not strictly comparable with the composer’s; he gives the music more room to expand and the result is very convincing.

The Selfish Giant pops up on a number of recordings. The sub-heading ‘A Fantasy’ may make it sound a little pompous, but Coates specially sanctioned a dance-band version played by Jack Hylton to a capacity audience at the Albert Hall. I think Hylton and Coates would have been very pleased with Wilson’s whimsical delivery, just a tad faster than on the Gamba recording. The Nimbus sets, both the longer and the shorter, contain the Jack Hylton recording, his band augmented by the Kit Kat band, with Coates at the helm, a slightly abridged account, presumably to fit on two 78 sides.

The old recording (1925) has come up marvellously well, but Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic match the whimsy of the performance in, of course, much better sound. Good as the Marco Polo recordings of Coates’ music are, by comparison with Coates and Wilson, the Slovak Radio Orchestra and Adrian Leaper do seem to make slightly heavy weather of The Selfish Giant (8.223445, download only).

The major work on Volume 2 is the ballet The Enchanted Garden, Coates’ most extended composition. It’s not often recorded, but there’s an elderly (1958) account from the Pro Arte Orchestra and Stanford Robison (Naxos Classical Archives 9.80890) and a more recent recording from Barry Wordsworth on the Lyrita recording listed above. It’s also something of a John Wilson speciality, having been included as the title piece on his 1998 recording of Coates’ music for ASV (CDWHL2112, Presto special CD or download). Characteristically, he now takes the music slightly faster than before, though either of his recordings makes a strong case for the ballet music, which can be equally enjoyed in concert form.

Even the shorter pieces quickly capture the listener’s attention, but it’s the most familiar music on the new recording which rounds off proceedings in a very special way. I must have heard Calling all Workers hundreds of times as a child, as the signature tune of the radio programme Workers’ Playtime. It still doesn’t pall when it’s as well played and recorded as this. The post-war world really wasn’t as golden as nostalgia would have us believe, but Coates’ music helps to make it appear so.

Neither of Wilson’s Coates recordings for Chandos is available on SACD – nor is the earlier Gamba recording – but all three are available as 24-bit downloads from, albeit rather expensively at £13.99. I listened to the other two recordings in 24-bit, but my review copy of Volume 2 was in 16-bit CD-quality only; nevertheless, it sets off these excellent performances very well. I need hardly add that the Chandos documentation is also first-rate.

Bargain lovers are splendidly served by the CfP 2-CD set, which contains music not yet available from John Wilson. Even if and when everything there is duplicated by Chandos, it will still be very well worth having at the attractive price. But, unless that’s all you can afford in these straitened times, you should also have one or both of these very tempting Chandos recordings.

Volume 1 simply had to be Recommended; so, too, must this. More, please.

Brian Wilson

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