WORKS: The Comedy of Errors Overture; Fra Giacomo; Behind the Lines; Four Verlaine Songs
PERFORMER: Sarah Fox (soprano), Paul Whelan (baritone); BBC Scottish SO/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67293
Cecil Coles was one of the generation of talented British composers lost in the First World War. Scottish by birth, he studied in Edinburgh and London, then in Stuttgart, where he became an assistant conductor at the Opera. He joined up in 1915 as a sergeant bandmaster, and was killed near the Somme six months before his 30th birthday.
This first recording of Coles’s music reveals a composer heavily indebted to Mendelssohn and Dvorák, and later to Wagner and Strauss. Despite his friendship with Holst (whose Ode to Death is dedicated to Coles’s memory), there is little folksong influence beyond some early conventional Scottishry. His orchestral writing, for example in the 1913 Comedy of Errors Overture, is highly accomplished; and the dramatic flair shown in the 1914 scena Fra Giacomo suggests a potential opera composer. But, for all the excellent singing and committed playing on this disc, it is difficult to believe that Coles could ever have become a major figure.
Nevertheless, it is a moving experience to hear the second movement of the incomplete Behind the Lines suite, a sombre cortège (expertly orchestrated by Martyn Brabbins) actually drafted at the front, shortly before Coles joined the ranks of the fallen. Anthony Burton