Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
A casualty of war
Pamela Blevins | Brevard, North Carolina USA | 08/30/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I cannot recall any case that parallels the dramatic and poignant discovery of Cecil Coles (1888-1918), the Scottish composer who vanished without a trace from the musical world despite his friendship with Gustav Holst and the critical acclaim that followed performances of his music prior to the Great War. Like George Butterworth, Frederic Kelly, Ernest Farrar and Denis Browne, Coles died in the Great War but unlike them he had no committed champions to keep his name alive and his music before the public. Now, 84 years after his death, his star is rising thanks to the combined efforts of his daughter, Penny Catherine Coles, who never knew her father, conductor Martyn Brabbins and Ted Perry at Hyperion Records.
Brabbins, who completed the orchestration of one of the two surviving movements of the title composition Behind the Lines, believes that Coles "was clearly a huge talent cut down in its prime". Brabbins, the BBC SSO and soloists Sarah Fox and Paul Whelan serve Coles very well in this revealing premiere recording.
While it might be easy to compare him with the composers whose influences are apparent in his music - Elgar, Wagner, Mahler, Brahms and others - I find such comparisons a bit unfair. Coles was a young man when he died, only 29. The amount of music he left is small and much of it is the work of a developing composer who did not have the time he needed to find a voice that was fully his own. This in no way diminishes his achievement which is quite remarkable given that some of the music on this CD dates from his teens. Consider the music that Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst composed at the ages of 17, 21, 23, 26 and 29, measure their musical growth, look at the influences and opportunities that helped them shape their work and find their own voices. What would the legacy of each be if he had died at 29?
Coles was a passionate man with a gift for dramatic expression and scene painting, a musical explorer who embarked on an adventure each time he put notes on paper. He absorbed sensations and ideas and observed and captured beauty with the confidence, daring and purpose of a gifted and determined young man poised to soar. He was essentially a poet, dramatist and painter working in the medium of music. His profound poetic sensibility drove his major gift for writing vocal works. He used an orchestral palette of wide range, depth and nuance to paint evocative scenes and portray human drama.
In early works like the three-movement From the Scottish Highlands, a work he began at 17, Coles, the observer, renders an impression of landscape, love and something darker, more elusive and mysterious in the beautiful but lonely Highlands.
In the Four Verlaine Songs we have the first hint of an opera composer in the making. He sets scenes, contrasts moods and casts words to powerful effect with the orchestra surging and swelling as a sumptuous equal partner to create four brief episodes of a mini-drama.
The Scherzo and Overture: The Comedy of Errors are also early works dating from Coles' twenty-first and twenty-third years. The overture containsa "broad spectrum of emotions" which Coles expresses with confidence, warmth, vigour, playfulness and, at times, majesty. TheScherzo, possibly conceived as a movement for a symphony, stands on its own as a work that sustains its momentum and remains dynamic from beginning to end.
Fra Giacomo, a monologue or scena, for baritone and orchestra, is an intense and masterful work bathed in a chiaroscuro of sound and mood that is both tender and chilling. It is a dark psychological tale of infidelity, jealousy, murder and revenge, which the 25-year-old Coles handles with insight and sensitivity. Coles was in full control of his orchestral palette and he used it to dramatic effect. There are many beautiful, moving and tense moments in Fra Giacomo as Coles musically juxtaposes the character's thoughts and actions to achieve exactly the right effect and emotional response.
Behind the Lines, the title work, concludes this superb introduction to Coles. It is half of the full work that Coles composed and scored while he was "In the Field" of war. He carried the manuscript with him everywhere and as a result lost the two inner movements in the shelling. On the surviving mud and blood stained title page, he lists all four movements: "Estaminet du Carrefour", "The Wayside Shrine", "Rumours" and "Cortège". What makes this work remarkable is the fact the "Estaminet du Carrefour" and "Cortege" are the musical equivalent of today's live coverage of an event. Coles did not live long enough to complete Behind the Lines. He died on 26 April 1918 of wounds received when he volunteered to bring in casualties from a wood.
A genius? Yes, I think so. A great loss to music? Absolutely."
An Extraordinary Disc
D. A Wend | Buffalo Grove, IL USA | 12/30/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I had read glowing reviews of this disc of Cecil Coles' music but I was hesitant to buy it: could such an unknown composer be that good? Having received the CD as a present I can report that it lives up to that reputation. Cecil Coles died at the age of 29 and in that short time he was a remarkably accomplished musician, winning scholarships and prizes. The works recorded here have a nice variety and provide a picture of a brilliant man whose life was tragically cut short. The composer lived and studied in Germany and his music reflects the influence of Wagner, Mahler and Richard Strauss. The first piece, The Comedy of Errors Overture, is based on Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, and captures the intricate plot of misunderstandings and mistaken identity. The somber opening of the overture led me to think that this was going to be somewhat pretentious but Coles shifts masterfully into a brilliant Allegro that beautifully describes the comic side of the play. Fra Giacomo is a dramatic scene for baritone to a text by William Buchanan, who was a popular poet in the early 20th century. The subject is lurid: a husband has poisoned his wife and calls the unsuspecting Fra Giacomo to his house in order to murder him, since he has carried on an adulterous liaison with his wife. This piece is followed by a marvelous Scherzo for large orchestra that may have been part of a contemplated symphony. It is a beautifully inspired and colorful work. This work is followed by the Four Verlaine Songs. They are short pieces for orchestra and soprano, sung in English. The writing is exquisite and was Coles' first significant work. From the Scottish Highlands is Coles' tribute to his homeland. There are various influences in this work and the final section, Lament, is a masterpiece with its brooding lament. The final work, Behind the Lines, occupied Coles while he was at the Western Front. This piece was meant to be in four movements of which the first and third (with indications as to the scoring) survive. The music provides a glimpse into life in the trenches. Estaminet de Carrefour is a pastoral piece of the French countryside. Cortege depicts a military funeral procession. I would highly recommend this disc to anyone with an interest in English music but the music is of interest to anyone and is a tribute to the genius of Cecil Coles. The music is beautifully played and recorded."
What could have been
John L. Anderson | Lynchburg, VA United States | 08/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Cecil Coles was but one of many budding artists to die in the horror that was World War I, and but one of many English composers on the cusp of achieving greatness: Butterworth and Warlock come to mind. This a lush and beautiful recording of true Edwardian English music. Martyn Brabbins shines an illuminating baton on the music of Coles, championed after his death in the trenches by Gustav Holst. Is this music of the highest order? I don't think so, but it is almost painful to listen to without being swept over by a wave of nostalgia for a world that was disappearing. All you can ask yourself when listening to this beautiful Hyperion CD is "What could have been ... what could have been?" VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED"