In a month in which there are so few releases of new film music, we are delighted
to welcome two new Hyperion releases of colourful music by British composers.
The film music of Sir William Walton is, of course, familiar; the scores for
Laurence Olivier's three Shakespearean films - Henry V; Richard III and
Hamlet – plus Escape Me Never, The First of the Few
(his splendid 'Spitfire Prelude and Fugue') and The Battle of Britain
etc. Here is another equally imposing side of the composer – a taste of
his ceremonial and church choral music. Walton is justly celebrated for his
two wonderful coronation marches: Crown Imperial for the coronation of
King George VI in 1937 and Orb and Sceptre for that of Queen Elizabeth
II in 1953. His magnificent ceremonial Coronation Te Deum was also performed
at that coronation with an expanded choir, accompanied by orchestra with added
brass and organ. This new recording sumptuously recorded in the marvellous acoustic
of Hereford Cathedral, features just organ and brass accompaniment but it lacks
neither boldness nor grandeur. It is preceded by the stirring fanfare that Walton
wrote for the Queen's entrance to the NATO Parliamentary conference in June
The bulk of the Walton programme is devoted to his liturgical works, all colourful,
all musically adventurous, impassioned, sometimes reminiscent of the wayward
harmonies of Belshazzar's Feast, often angular, and sometimes with jazzy
syncopation. . Polyphony and The Wallace Collection sing Walton's complex tapestries
with assurance and suave conviction. A musical treat for the adventurous
So many films have been set amid the horrors of the trenches of the Great
War. Music from Behind the Lines was actually composed there.
The manuscript is actually spattered with the blood and mud. Cecil Coles was
killed near the Somme on 26th August 1918 during a heroic attempt
to rescue some wounded comrades. He was in his 29th year. The Great
War took its toll on many British composers: it also snatched the lives of Ernest
Farrar and George Butterworth and seared those of others like Sir Arthur Bliss
(composer of the film score of Things To Come) Ivor Gurney, E.J. Moeran
and Patrick Hadley. But the life and work of Cecil Cole has until now lain all
but forgotten. However, thanks to the persistence and research of his daughter,
Penny Catherine Coles, his manuscripts, some embedded with shrapnel, have been
painstakingly put together to create this first commercial recording of these
works (or indeed of any of his music!).
Music from Behind the Lines consists of a short pastoral evocation
('Estaminet du Carrefour' – coffee house or tavern at the crossroads) of northern
France landscapes with a central waltz that might have been heard at a local
town dance and, more importantly, 'Cortège', a moving evocation of a
military funeral procession – one of many that Coles must have witnessed in
those grim days.
Coles's music shows influences of Wagner, Bruckner, Brahms and Richard Strauss.
It is powerful and intensely dramatic and atmospheric. There is much programme
music here. Perhaps the most impressive work is Fra Giacomo a setting
of some macabre verses by Robert Williams Buchanan. It is a tale of revenge
and murder and Coles seizes every opportunity to colour and accentuate its melodramatics.
A merchant invites the monk, Fra Giacomo to pray over the body of his newly
deceased wife. It soon becomes clear that the merchant had suspected his wife
of infidelity. He had donned the disguise of a priest to discover, from her
confessions, that the guilty one was none other than Fra Giacomo to whom he
now confesses that he had not only poisoned his wife but also the drink that
the monk was at that moment quaffing. The work ends with the merchant dumping
the body of the guilty monk in the canal. Baritone Paul Whelan and Brabbins
interpret these murky proceedings with relish.
Coles was interested in French poetry and the chansons of Fauré, Chausson,
Debussy and Ravel. His imaginative and impressive Four Verlaine songs combine
the elegance and refinement of French mélodies with a more darkly trenchant
Germanic influence. 'Fantastic in Appearance' is a somewhat harrowing picture
of a river gliding 'like death swells…' through a town. 'A slumber vast and
black', is an intensely despairing song of lost love is written in a progressive
post-Wagnerian style while 'Let's dance the jig' is a more defiant and stoical
acceptance of lost love with Sarah Fox savouring its irony. Pastorale, is the
sunniest song of the set, a quietly bucolic little piece.
The Comedy of Errors Overture, from Shakespeare's play of misunderstandings,
mistaken identities and reversals of fortune, covers a broad spectrum of emotions
from a darkly turbulent opening signifying despair to lyrical romantic episodes
and comic burlesque. Influences are many and varied from Mendelssohn to Wagner
and Mahler by way of Edward German and even a hint of Eric Coates! – but assembled
convincingly and entertainingly. The satirical Scherzo in A minor is
another evocative work in a similar vein. It is full of sardonic humour with
in parts a demonic edge and Coles introduces some arresting harmonies and orchestrations.
Occasionally, its rhythms might imply a Spanish setting. From the Scottish
Highlands comprises a Mendelssohnian Prelude with a blolero-like dance.
The central Idyll (Love scene) is unashamedly romantic; akin to Bruch or Tchaikowsky
in its lusher moments while the concluding Lament broods darkly and menacingly
but the trio is a tender waltz.
In truth Cecil Coles's music cannot be claimed to be a major find for its
is the work of a young man yet to establish his own voice, it is often derivative
and thematically non too strong. But it demonstrates Coles's penchant for the
dramatic and a gift for writing evocative, atmospheric music. Like George Butterworth,
who also died at the Battle of the Somme, he showed great promise. A notable
find and a valuable addition to the British music archives. Hyperion and Martyn
Brabbins, who contributed to the restoration of this music, are to be congratulated
on the release of this enterprising album.
More reviews of these two albums will be found
on MusicWeb our sister site and we hope to publish an interview
with Martyn Brabbins on the music of Cecil Coles.