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Coates orchestral 8555194
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Eric COATES (1886-1957)
By the Sleepy Lagoon (1930) [3:44]
Springtime Suite (1937) [13:23]
Saxo-Rhapsody (1936) [9:17]
Footlights Waltz (1939) [6:00]
Four Ways Suite (1927) [16:32]
The Eighth Army March (1942) [2:38]
Lazy Night (1931) [3:01]
Last Love (1939) [3:33]
High Flight March (1956) [4:05]
Kenneth Edge (saxophone)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Penny
rec. 23-30 April 1993, Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava, Slovakia
NAXOS 8.555194 [62:58]

This is a repackaged disc first issued in 1998 on Marco Polo (8.223521) as part of their British Light Music series which featured many well-known names, including Ronald Binge, Robert Farnon, Richard Addinsell and Trevor Duncan. The series included two albums of music by Eric Coates; the other disc contains the pot-boilers such as the ubiquitous Dam Busters March, the evocative London Suites and the wartime favourite Calling All Workers. Still, the first track on this disc, Sleepy Lagoon, is famous as the theme tune to Roy Plomley’s long running Desert Island Discs. Many people may hear this and think it evokes a tropical island in the sun. (In fact, the tune was inspired by the view from Selsey towards Bognor Regis.)
Springtime is Coates’s eleventh suite, which has never quite gained much popularity. There are three well-balanced movements. Fresh Morning: Pastorale and Noonday Song: Romance cast a backward glance to a lost pre-Great War idyll. Dance in the Twilight: Valse is optimistic and thoughtful. One of Coates’s most subtle works, the suite deserves to be better known.

I have never really enjoyed the Saxo-Rhapsody, and I cannot tell you why. Its single movement has a ternary structure: an energetic Allegro vivace is bookended by a sympathetic Moderato passage. Unusually for Coates, this is the only orchestral work “that [is] not pictorial or programmatic, but a piece of ‘absolute’ music”. It majors on the instrument’s lyrical characteristics. At the time of composition, serious artists looked suspiciously at the saxophone. But a contemporary critic noted: “when its resources are skilfully exploited, when its melancholy tones are blended with those gender and nobler instruments, it is capable of effects both novel and pleasant”. Kenneth Edge gives a splendid performance here.

Romance is in the air with the pensively titled rhapsody Last Love, described as a song without words. Whatever emotions this dreamy music evokes, this romantic number pushes beyond the trite to something deeper and more expressive. Last Love is one of only two pieces Coates wrote in the fateful year of 1939. The other is the Footlights Waltz, a wistful reflection on Coates’s time working in the theatre. Rob Barnett in his review has described it as “dreamy, silvery and convey[ing] that floating effortlessness so typical of the Coates magic”. It is the third, and probably the best, of only three concert waltzes that the composer wrote; the other two are Sweet Seventeen and Dancing Night.

The Four Ways Suite was dedicated to the conductor Basil Cameron. The idea is to celebrate the four corners of the world. North is a rhapsody on the well-known Scottish tune Ca’ the Yowes. The atmosphere is sometimes pastiche Scots. Next, a “languorous waltz” points South, but it is not clear just how far in this direction. The night-time venues of London are nearer the mark than some more exotic locations. Eastwards, looking to East Asia, is full of oriental clichés. Albert Ketèlbey’s In a Persian Market is never far away from the listener’s memory. Equally stereotypical is West, which majors on things American, especially the charleston. It is a jazz parody, and one of the best. Sadly, the Four Ways Suite did not generate a deal of enthusiasm, and has fallen out of Coates’s repertoire.

Lazy Night (written in 1931, not 1932 as listed) is another “nature work”. Like Sleepy Lagoon, it was inspired by the surroundings of Selsey, but it is more a mood picture than a tone poem. The clue is in its subtitle: valse romance. It is evocative of someone dreaming, perhaps whilst sitting in the garden of a big art deco hotel in Bournemouth, and hearing waltzes in the ballroom, or an early evening stroll in a London park.

The Eighth Army and the High Flight Marches have not retained the popularity of the Dam Buster’s. The former was dedicated to General Montgomery after his victory at Alamein in 1942. Later, it was used as the signature tune for BBC Middle East broadcasts. Once again, the main theme bounces along, and the trio is more invigorating than may be expected. The orchestration is remarkable. High Flight was Eric Coates’s final composition. It was devised for the eponymous film, telling a story of officer cadets training at Cranwell. Coates’s march was incorporated into the film score, which was devised by Douglas Gamley and Kenneth Jones. The movie was a failure, but the march remains a success, and deserves to be heard more often. The “big tune” is every bit as good as The Dam Buster’s March.

The sound quality of this disc is excellent. The playing is enthusiastic and never patronising. The original 1993 liner notes by Michael Ponder are most helpful. The disc introduces repertoire a little beyond the better-known potboilers of the companion Naxos disc (8.555178 - review). That said, there is much wonderful stuff here that deserves the listener’s attention. Optimistically, this delightful re-release will be bought by those Coates’s enthusiasts who missed it thirty years ago.

John France

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