Eric Coates was unequivocally the greatest British composer of light music in the 20th century. His music magically evoked the spirit of all aspects of English life from the century’s early years up until after the Second World War. Volume 2 of John Wilson’s traversal maintains the charms of its predecessor, with Wilson and his BBC forces capturing every nuance of these wonderful scores.
This is not just polite, middle class, Church of England, Home Counties “Between the Wars” musical wallpaper, the sort of thing the Celia Johnson character in Brief Encounter would have had on while she was arranging the hollyhocks or compiling the brass roster at St Anselms. The wartime scores are models of wholesome patriotism: Calling all Workershas a stoic cheerfulness and the inscription, “To go to one’s work and to do that work with earnestness and goodwill” is real dukes to dustmen stuff.
The waltzes range from “Anyone for tennis?” boisterousness to almost Gallic delicateness. For your Delight has a real “Once upon a time” charm. The Summer Days Suite ranges from the depiction of the exquisite torpor of an Edwardian summer to – in the central section, On the Edge of the Lake – what the sleeve note writer Richard Bratby describes as “measured passion” (not an adjective you’d instinctively associate with this composer but spot on, nonetheless).
The Children’s Dance in The Selfish Giant (a children’s story by Oscar Wilde) has a whiff of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson in her latest slinky Chanel number doing a foxtrot at the Embassy Club (Coates was no stranger to the more chic parts of the West End). Stirring stuff!
The only reason it didn’t score five stars is the relatively niggardly playing time of 56 minutes. Surely, they could have found room for the excellent Saxophone Rhapsody.
Work: The Enchanted Garden
Performers: BBC Philharmonic/John Wilson
Label: Chandos CHAN20148