|REVIEWS: divine art historic sound ddh 27806 Coates/Moeran Violin Concertos|
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE:
The coupling, though, is an absolute stunner. Campoli’s 1954 live Festival Hall broadcast of E J Moeran’s Violin Concerto outclasses the few recordings it has had since – his playing is utterly charismatic, turning the work unashamedly into a virtuoso vehicle. Adrian Boult directs an accompaniment completely at one with this passionate, extrovert view of the piece. The sole source is a badly degraded tape; but though there is distortion at climaxes Divine Art have done an amazing job in producing such a lifelike, gripping sound. Every enthusiast for Moeran’s music should have this disc.
Performance (Coates): ****(excellent) (Moeran): ***** (outstanding)
INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW:
The coupling is even more recondite: the Violin Concerto by the Yorkshire-born Douglas Coates, broadcast in 1951 with Colin Sauer as soloist with the BBC Northern Orchestra conducted by Charles Groves. Apparently Groves didn’t like the piece, and the composer is said to have destroyed the manuscript. Lewis Foreman described the concerto in his booklet note as “a charming lyrical work with two gorgeous romantic themes” and it’s well worth hearing. The source material for both recordings has needed a lot of restoration and this has been done beautifully by Andrew Rose.
Douglas Coates (1898-1974) was a new name to me. Born in Yorkshire and self-taught, his compositions include a substantial body of choral music, works for organ, piano, military and brass band, and a handful of orchestral offerings. His approachable (if not terribly distinctive) Violin Concerto in D dates from 1934 and this 1951 broadcast appears to have been its only performance. A fine one it is, too, even though it seems conductor Charles Groves was particularly critical of the work’s curious proportions, the 15-and-a-half minute opening movement tending to dwarf the two remaining movements (neither exceeds five minutes).
It’s sad to learn that the composer found the whole experience traumatic. He promptly branded the concerto “a failure” and may well have destroyed the manuscript (it has never been located). The sound here (taken from a set of acetate 78’s) is more palatable that in the Moeran, but in both instances restorer Andrew Rose has worked wonders with what was evidently some intractable source material. Detailed notes complement what is a brave and instructive coupling.
The Concerto falls into three movements, the first more than 15 minutes in length, the other two falling between four and five minutes (the relative lengths of the movements also drew criticism). In the first movement, the violin soars idiomatically (the part sounds startlingly well written for the solo, and the effect seems only partly due to Colin Sauer's sonorous and commanding playing (as leader of the Dartington String Quartet, he had the use, from the Royal Academy of Music, of the Kustendyke Stradivari). Passages surge and ebb with Elgarian grandeur and finally debouch in a large-scale though not particularly virtuosic cadenza (in the difficulties of which Sauer nevertheless seems to experience some difficulty maintaining tonal purity). The slow movement, a sort of Romance in which the violin sings almost continuously – and ardently – gives way to a sprightly finale. Perhaps the readers felt that the Concerto relied too heavily on manner (rather than matter). Nevertheless it's easily accessible and pleasant, if not stirring. In any case, faced with a barrage of harsh criticism from the BBC (including the musicians), Coates announced that he would destroy the score, and it's not clear whether he actually did so.
Ernest J Moeran's Violin Concerto, about which I remember reading in my childhood, has remained something of a curiosity, though Lydia Mordkovich recorded it (Chandos 10168; Robert McColley reviewed an earlier Chandos release, 8807, of which 10168 appears to have been a digital remastering, in 14:2, praising the performance if not the work itself), and Andrew Rose refers to a set of transcription discs of an earlier performance made for the composer. Rose notes that Alfredo Campoli (or “Campoli”, as he liked to be called) made of the work a vehicle for his own virtuosic expressivity, justifying this later transcription of a sound-check made in 1954. The three movements occur in a somewhat unusual order, with a Rondo following the Allegro moderato, and a slow movement bringing the work to a close. Rose speculates that the piece might have stood beside Elgar's Concerto if a recording had been made of it before Moeran died in 1950. Campoli, caught up close by the engineers, possessed a stirring bel canto , which he deployed in the great Romantic concertos (he'd also made a name for himself in the performance of light music). Elgar's isn't the only obvious influence, however, with Irish folk music (and suggestions of Delius's subtly hued lushness) contributing generously both to the Concerto's texture and to its timbres. The violin's evocative melody, often in double-stops generally serves as the principal focus, however, breaking in the first movement into declamatory figuration or erupting in ecstatic cadenzas. The Rondo – in the celebratory manner of Walton's central movement, though without its spikiness – begins with quickly paced figuration, but deliquesces again into softer, nostalgic statement. The last movement seems sparer and bleaker in comparison, though it rises to double-stopped outbursts similar to those that occurred in the first two movements. But whatever the Concerto's musical octane, for his part, Campoli might be playing Glazunov's Concerto, or that by Elgar (which he, in fact, did record), so forcefully does he project the solo part. In comparison, Lydia Mordkovich, an Oistrakh student who can usually be counted on to brandish a meat-axe even which the music calls for a scalpel, plays the Concerto's wistful passages with ingratiating sympathy; and she sounds more secure, if edgier, in the technical passages. Those whose interest lies primarily in Moeran's concerto might consider her reading a strong, even preferable, alternative, especially in Chandos's more up-to-date sound, which captures much of the atmosphere she creates. Still, Campoli made himself a fixture of his adopted country's musical life, his authority in the Concerto can't be gainsaid, and his recordings have become all too rare.
Divine Art's pairing of two Romantic British concertos may not reach the main stream, though neither of the impeccably behaved works gives the slightest offense, and Campoli's performance, at least, commands attention. But collectors with various interests (violin, British, BBC) shouldn't hesitate in the least to acquire it. And the booklet paints a grim picture of an unsuspected autocratic artistic control that apparently strangled creativity for decades – fascinating reading even if the CD weren't included. Warmly recommended.
Divine Art’s notes do give us a lot more detail about Coates and his music which is well worth reading. The music itself has much to commend it, for the performance is excellent. Of the three movements, the first is cast in Sonata form, with some enjoyable melodic ideas and an extensive cadenza, in which the use of harmonics should at least have given the 1951 listeners some pleasure! The second movement is the best of the three and develops its central theme to a passionate climax. The work is one which I shall certainly get to know better and hopefully should persuade northern music lovers to try to discover other works, including a Cello Concerto, by this interesting composer who died on 1 February 1974.
The Coates Violin Concerto is here paired with the Violin Concerto by the much better established Ernest John Moeran, generally known by his initials. This is played with characteristic power and silky tone by Alfredo Campoli expertly partnered by Sir Adrian Boult and his BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1954.This is another Divine Art winner, highly recommended for the growing younger generation of music lovers who are becoming fascinated by the extraordinary crop of English composers belonging to the first half of the last century.
CLASSIC RECORD COLLECTOR:
Douglas Coates (1898-1974) is a name new to me. A Yorkshire organist, he clearly imbibed the spirit of the English Renaissance and was an excellent composer and orchestrator. If you do not expect originality – various passages remind one of various British composers – his concerto will please, especially as the performance is a fine one. Colin Sauer is best remembered as leader of the Dartington Quartet. Andrew Rose has done the transfer from acetates very well.
FEDERATION OF RECORDED MUSIC SOCIETIES BULLETIN:
This recording features two important soloists of yesterday, Colin Sauer and Alfredo Campoli. With the BBC Northern Orchestra Colin Sauer gives a committed and lyrical performance of the Coates concerto. The critics gave mixed reports on this work when it first appeared but this recording of Sauer’s interpretation will surely do much towards its revival.
The legendary eloquence and flawless technique of Campoli are demonstrated fully in this 1954 BBC broadcast of him playing Moeran’s Violin Concerto. With shades of Delius and Vaughan Williams, the work is essentially English and has been compared to Elgar’s violin concerto, Nevertheless, it stands as a masterpiece in its own right, painting all aspects of a rural landscape, from scenic changes to the jolly revels at a country fair. Despite the inevitable limited sound quality in the original 78 recordings, Campoli brings the work to life with striking virtuosity.
Douglas Coates has no connection with Albert Coates. Douglas was born in Yorkshire, educated in Lancashire and moved to London in 1923-24. I had never heard of him until Jonathan Woolf mentioned to me that these transcription discs had been found. Philip Scowcroft did valuable detective work to fill in some of the details. Sadly Coates’ scores, including a cello concerto and a violin sonata, seem to have vanished ... unless you know better.
The Coates Violin Concerto is rather lop-sided with a surging first movement running to over quarter of an hour followed by two movements each lasting less than five minutes. The outline of the work follows the standard fast-slow-fast template. Yet that first movement is such an ardent outpouring that one comes away wanting to hear it again and prepared to forgive the short breath of the finale. The writing is big and potent with the violin soaring in almost constant song over the tormented orchestral part. Colin Sauer - at the centre of musical life in the Dartington and Exeter areas during my youth - drives this work forward with gorgeous sturdy tone and no little poetry. The style is loosely comparable with Elgar, Bax and Delius - whose voices you might have expected anyway - and Miaskovsky - who you probably would not expect. There is no trace of dissonance.
This constitutes the fourth commercially released recording of the Moeran Violin Concerto. The first was issued in 1979 on Lyrita Recorded Edition LP SRCS 105 (John Georgiadis, London Symphony Orchestra/Vernon Handley). Then came the Mordkovitch recording on Chandos (CHAN10168X Ulster Orchestra/Handley) in 1990. Then in 1999 came Symposium’s CD (1201) including the Sammons broadcast recording from 1946.
Campoli pours an almost desperate intensity into these pages. The mood is emotionally exalted - exulting in melancholy and beauty. Campoli is not content to allow the generous poetry at play throughout these pages to cool the emotions. This is I think the warmest and most passionate performance I have ever heard of the piece. I say that in knowledge of all the commercial versions but also knowing broadcast tapes of performances by Ralph Holmes, Yfrah Neaman and Tasmin Little. Going by the feral stomp and romp of the middle movement Boult shared the Sammons vision. The music fairly flies - wild-eyed and kicking up the dust from the dancing floors of Kerry. Boult goads his players to the edge of their capabilities in the central toboggan ride of a Rondo. The contour of the movements is slow-fast-slow; just like the Delius. Even in the flanking slow movements Boult and Campoli keep up the pressure to a remarkable degree. Whatever this tells us about Campoli it also reminds us that Boult was in fact a fiery conductor at times comparable with Mravinsky and Golovanov.
There we have it: a surprising discovery (the Coates) that survived against the odds and a hothouse performance of the Moeran.
I approached this concerto with no little curiosity, hoping that Divine Art have restored to circulation a neglected masterpiece. I don’t honestly think that claim can be made for it, however. Undoubtedly the concerto has flaws. One of these is the balance of the piece. It consists of three movements, the first of which plays for 15:38. The two succeeding movements take 4:57 and 4:32 respectively. This means that the whole weight of the musical argument is skewed towards the opening movement. According to Lewis Foreman’s excellent notes the conductor of this performance, Sir Charles Groves, was critical of this imbalance and, to be honest, I think he may have had a point.
But there’s much to admire in the long, sonata-form first movement. It opens promisingly with a nice thematic idea. I’m not entirely convinced that the succeeding material is as memorable. But the music is undoubtedly ardent and also confident in tone and the soloist is kept busy with a mixture of singing lines and brilliant passagework. Colin Sauer makes the best possible case for the music. Indeed, he is a most accomplished advocate. He’s balanced pretty close so one can appreciate the accuracy, technical command and sheer commitment of his playing. I also relished his purity of tone, which is not even compromised by the most demanding of swift passages. The orchestra is balanced rather in the background and it’s not always easy to hear what’s going on. The scoring sounds somewhat thick in places but this impression may be due to the recording itself. It’s a pity that, despite the best endeavours of the restoration engineers, more detail doesn’t emerge for the orchestra is clearly an important protagonist in the work. As it is, I think it would have benefited the overall structure of the piece if Coates had pruned the first movement somewhat. It’s rather to long for its own good and there were times when I asked myself exactly where the argument was going. Perhaps Coates might have revised the work after hearing what I assume was its first professional performance - this recording was made for his benefit, it seems - but he was acutely disappointed by the reaction to the piece at the BBC and it seems that he may well have destroyed the work, which is a great pity.
One thing that crossed my mind as I listened was to wonder who, if anyone, advised Coates on the technical aspects of the violin. Did he have someone who fulfilled for him a similar function to that carried out by W.H. Reed when Elgar was composing his concerto? The point is relevant since it doesn’t appear from the notes that Coates played the instrument himself yet to me, as a non-violinist, the writing for the solo instrument, whilst challenging, sounds to have come from the pen of someone who knew what he was doing and who understood the capabilities of the instrument. This is evident not least in the substantial cadenza in the first movement (from 12:10 to 14:55). Coates also wrote a sonata for the violin but I don’t know if this preceded the concerto.
The second movement is aptly described in the notes as "a charming but slight interlude." I found this movement somewhat frustrating in that no sooner has Coates established a good lyrical flow than he brings the movement to an end. What there is of it is promising but the ideas are insufficiently developed in the movement’s short span. The same is really true of the finale, which is vigorous and busy but it’s too short-winded and rather seems to run out of steam. I can’t help wondering what would have happened had not Coates been so discouraged in the aftermath of this very performance. Might he have benefited from the experience of a broadcast professional performance and revised the concerto? Of course, that may be presumptuous on my part. Perhaps, had he been satisfied with the experience of the performance, he would have rested content with the concerto in this form. Idle to speculate, I suppose. And since the performing materials are now lost, it seems, this will probably be the only chance that we shall ever get to hear it and for that, despite the reservations I’ve expressed - which others may not share - we should be thankful. On one point there can be no dispute: Colin Sauer is a fine advocate of the work and, in fact, it’s hard to think that Coates could have been better served.
Committed advocacy is also the order of the day in the accompanying performance of the Moeran concerto. This, at least, is better known than the Coates though it’s nowadays a rarity in the concert hall. However, there is the fine recording made in the late 1980s for Chandos by Lydia Mordkovitch and Vernon Handley. Miss Mordkovitch is a rather passionate player but by the side of Campoli in this 1954 live performance even she seems a trifle reticent. Campoli lavishes on the piece his gorgeously full tone, husky at the lower end of the violin’s compass, thrillingly bright in alt. Moeran was, of course, a violinist himself and he appears to have had a full understanding of and sympathy with the instrument. As Andrew Rose perceptively comments in his note, "the Moeran Concerto has a joy to it". It teems with expansive, rhapsodic writing for the soloist. The long singing lines in the first movement suit Campoli very well but he also tosses off the stretches of demanding passagework with élan. It’s an intense reading and I relished the great warmth in Campoli’s playing.
The second movement is a volatile jig and Campoli is in full command of all the pyrotechnics. The concerto ends not with a conventional display piece but with a long, soulful lento. Again Campoli’s playing is passionate and full-toned: in his hands the solo line dips and soars like a bird in flight. The movement comes to a serene conclusion and it’s just a pity that the recording can’t quite cope with the last climax without distortion. Overall, however, the sound is not too bad and the orchestra is certainly better reported than is the case in the Coates piece. At times the recording distorts when the volume is loud but in general one can hear that Sir Adrian Boult is providing good, characteristically understanding support. Some may find Campoli’s approach too intense. I’m not sure this performance is one for everyday listening but his conviction and technical assurance disarm criticism, I find. The concerto is diffuse in parts but Campoli, caught on the wing in this live performance, sweeps all doubts aside. It’s a bravura reading.
I congratulate Divine Art on their enterprise in making available one unknown work and one largely unknown performance of a slightly more familiar concerto. The transfers sounded well on my equipment and the documentation is exemplary. English music enthusiasts should certainly investigate this fascinating release.
Lovers of beautiful neo-Romantic Violin Concertos, this superb disc of British music is particularly for you, and that in historical recordings which sound nothing short of miraculous. Douglas Coates (1898-1974), who has no family tie either with conductor Albert Coates or light music composer Eric Coates, was completely unknown to me before hearing this CD. On the other hand Ernest John Moeran received the honour in 1942 of a recording of his 1937 Symphony, and thanks to labels such as Chandos and Naxos we now have new recordings of much of his orchestral work, including the Symphony, Sinfonietta, Violin Concerto, Serenade in G and the Cello Concerto.
Of Irish descent, Moeran (1894-1950) belongs to the circle of English composers writing primarily in lyric vein and strongly influenced by British folklore, including Delius, Ireland, Vaughan Williams and of course Bax, of whom Moeran was a close friend. His music inevitably evokes the open spaces of Ireland, and of Norfolk where he spent his childhood. If in his dark and dramatic Symphony in G one cannot deny the influence of Sibelius, for whom English twentieth-century composers have a prediliction, this influence is less marked in the Violin Concerto to make way for an “Irish” style marked especially in the second movement by typical intervals of a fourth. Primarily a lyrical work, the concerto is in some fashion a response to the storms of the Symphony, with which it forms a balanced diptych. Although in three parts, the structure is rather rhapsodic, with a first movement Allegro moderato flanked not only by the traditional final cadences but also a lengthy introduction; moreover the second and third movements are reversed according to the traditional pattern, with a lively second-movement Rondo Vivace alla valsa burlesca, while the final movement, Lento, is serene in the manner of an epilogue. Violinist Alfredo Campoli, dedicatee of the Bliss violin concerto, offers us Moeran’s work in a cordial, exalted and impassioned interpretation – it is the most intense of the four available versions.
If that (four versions on record) appears little for a work of this magnitude, it is generous compared to the Violin Concerto in D by Douglas Coates, performed only once in a concert broadcast by the BBC, and miraculously surviving in one recorded copy. This concerto, written in 1934, was accepted in 1945 by the musical staff of the BBC but only broadcast six years later. It was a traumatic experience for the Yorkshire–born composer, who having this very traditional and tonal work criticised, considered it a failure, and appears to have destroyed it, since no trace can be found. Once more, this disc proves to be a priceless cultural testimony with respect to a work which probably does not exist any more. Other works by Coates such as his Violin Sonata and Cello Concerto appear to have suffered the same fate, with not even one performance to signify their brief existence.
The Violin Concerto, while being relatively close to Moeran’s in style, with its direct and warm lyricism (though in fact written earlier), is not at all on the same scale; in its disarming simplicity and naivety, the work, which lasts only 25 minutes, is absolutely charming and contains poetic and touching moments of pure beauty, especially in the beautifully constructed first movement. The following two movements, each of only five minutes duration, seem to want to open out but curiously are foreshortened, which gives the impressions of disproportion in the work – a pity, because the concerto is strewn with beautiful and tantalising melodies. Though it is not a “large” work, it touches our sensitivity and deserves an audience. Worthy of his colleague Campoli, while less famous, violinist Colin Sauer interprets the work with beautiful musicianship and all the conviction and authority to validate the music in this, its first (and alas, last) performance; he is brilliantly and effectively supported by the sadly missed Sir Charles Groves.
One must congratulate Stephen Sutton of Divine Art for the publication of these two typically British concertos, of a 20th century tonal style now being reborn, and to Andrew Rose, of Pristine Audio, for the restoration of these historical sound documents which, single copies of each only existing, were originally in a sorry state.