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Music From Behind The Lines

5 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (Aug. 6 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Hyperion UK
  • ASIN: B000067ULU
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #236,601 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Product Description

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It's always moving to hear music of the distant past sounding for the first time after years of total neglect. When that music is of some quality, and its composer another casualty of the Great War, then the experience is all the more poignant. Cecil Coles, a close friend of Gustav Holst, died near the Somme in April 1918 at the age of 29. It's taken 84 years and the persistence of Coles's daughter Catherine to rescue his music from oblivion.

Justice at last, then. This string of persuasive performances, given real shape and direction by a sympathetic Martyn Brabbins, show Coles as a craftsman of substantially more than average merit. His music knows where it's going, glows with humanity and is sensitively, imaginatively orchestrated. And Coles clearly had "range"--from the deeply felt language of the moving, impressive Fra Giacomo scena to the breezy episodes of From the Scottish Highlands. Yes, we recognise the influence of Wagner, French song-writers (in the delightful Verlaine settings, ravishingly sung by Sarah Fox), Dvorák and so on, but so what? The two extant movements of Behind the Lines display a composer determined to work on in the trenches, producing music both of gaiety and gravity.--Andrew Green

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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.
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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.
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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
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa2a82d38) out of 5 stars 6 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa29f3114) out of 5 stars A casualty of war Aug. 30 2002
By Pamela Blevins - Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2814fe4) out of 5 stars An Extraordinary Disc Dec 30 2002
By David A. Wend - Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa28195e8) out of 5 stars What could have been Aug. 14 2002
By John L. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
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
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa281078c) out of 5 stars Reviving Interest in a Forgotten Figure Oct. 1 2015
By J C E Hitchcock - Published on Amazon.com
George Butterworth was probably the most famous British composer to have been killed in the First World War; his "The Banks of Green Willow" and his settings of Housman's "A Shropshire Lad" have become part of the established classical repertoire. This CD features the music of a much less well known casualty of that war, Cecil Frederick Coles (1888 -1918). One reason that Coles is so little known is that his output was so small; this one disc contains most of his known works. The slightness of his oeuvre was not the inevitable consequence of his early death; his life was, after all, only one year shorter than that of Schubert, one of the most fabulously prolific composers of all time.

Although the disc is entitled "Music from Behind the Lines", only one piece, the incomplete suite "Behind the Lines" itself, was actually composed while Coles was on active service. Most of the other works, in fact, were written while he was studying and working in Germany between 1907 and 1913; it is ironical that he should have been killed fighting against the country where he had spent several years of his life and where he doubtless had many friends. Several of his works were originally published under German titles; the "Comedy of Errors Overture", for example, started life as "Die Komödie der Irrungen".

Dr Jeremy Dibble who wrote the accompanying sleeve notes states that he considers the "dramatic scena" for baritone and orchestra, "Fra Giacomo", to be Coles' best work, although with respect I cannot agree. There is nothing wrong with the music itself, which is suitably dramatic to match this lurid tale of adultery, jealousy, murder and revenge set in mediaeval Italy, but I could not help wishing that Coles had found a text more worthy of his talents. It is by the obscure poet Robert Williams Buchanan, and on the basis of this poem (and the few other poems of his I have been able to track down) I would say that his obscurity is well deserved.

Coles' other vocal work is his "Four Verlaine Songs", settings for soprano and orchestra of four poems by a much more prominent literary figure, the French poet Paul Verlaine, although he sets them in English translation rather than the original French. Here I felt that the music was not always well-matched to the words; the setting of "A Slumber Vast & Black" was surprisingly noisy for a poem which ends with the line "No noise, no noise". Probably my favourite amongst these was "Let's Dance the Jig!" in which the title line (in French "Dansons la gigue!") is less an exclamation of joy or celebration than of defiant stoicism in a poem about unhappy love.

On the whole I preferred his purely instrumental works. The suite "From the Scottish Highlands", an early work dating from his late teens, is a celebration of his homeland. (Coles, born in Kirkcudbright and educated in Edinburgh, was himself a Scot, although not a Highlander). It is very short- the three movements together only last about ten minutes- but in those movements Coles reveals a wonderful gift for melody. I felt that the musical ideas contained here could easily have been expanded into something of greater, perhaps symphonic, length. Coles never wrote a symphony, but the "Scherzo in A minor" may originally have been intended as part of one. "The Comedy of Errors" starts off rather portentously, but is otherwise as merry and exuberant as one would expect of an overture inspired by one of Shakespeare's most light-hearted comedies.

"Behind the Lines" is another orchestral suite, this time inspired by the war itself. We know that it originally contained four movements, but of these only two have survived, and only one, “L’Estaminet du Carrefour”, a sound-picture of a French inn, in orchestrated form. The other, "Cortège", played here in an orchestration by the conductor Martyn Brabbins, is a depiction of a funeral procession. To me it was the most moving piece on this disc, an eloquent and noble expression of grief on the death of a comrade-in-arms and a portent of the composer's own ultimate fate.

With any composer who died young the question invariably arises of "What might he have achieved if he had lived?" This question is, of course, unanswerable, and in Coles' case even more so because it really combines two quite different questions, namely "What might Coles have achieved had he survived the war unscathed?" and "What might he have achieved had there never been a war?" The history of music (and of the other arts) in the twentieth century would have been very different if that century had been a peaceful rather than a war-torn one. His style struck me as rather conservative, looking backwards towards the Romanticism of the late nineteenth century rather than forwards towards what the twentieth was to bring; the man influences seem to be Elgar, Mahler, Tchaikovsky and even Brahms, and he might have found himself at odds with a post-war world dominated by avant-garde Modernism. On the other hand, his own style may have evolved in a more Modernist direction under the influence of his contemporaries. Either way, Brabbins deserves our congratulations for reviving interest in this forgotten figure.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2810ef4) out of 5 stars Moving Music from a Troubled Time Oct. 20 2010
By EdgeOfDark - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
What truly introduced me to this recording was the series, The First World War - The First World War - The Complete Series This is a fine recording, and includes the title track of the series as well as other fine pieces of music by this talented composer! A must-buy if you enjoy the series!

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