The epic temper in Albert Coates finds marvelous vehicles in music by Mozart and Beethoven.
Albert Coates conducts = MOZART: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 “Jupiter”; Overture to The Impraesario, K. 486; BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica” – London Symphony Orchestra/ Albert Coates – Pristine Audio PASC 455, 71:42 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Some 35 years ago, record producer Thomas L. Clear created a two-volume “Anthology of Orchestral Music” on vinyl that included Russian-British conductor Albert Coates (1882-1953) leading the LSO in a performance from HMV electrical shellacs (26 August and 27 October 1927) of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. I recall my telephoning Thomas Clear to express my total involvement in the Coates vitality and the cyclonic, manic frenzy he whipped up for this reading of Mozart’s last symphony. Now, record producer and engineer Mark Obert-Thorn revives this inscription, along with Coates equally remarkable Eroica (16 September and 26 October 1926) with an un-named London ensemble.
The crisp execution and sheer velocity of the Jupiter Symphony do not detract from its dramatic and lyric effect; in fact, we might be just as much awed to witness the extent that Mozart’s own energies withstand such compulsion. The opening statement of the C Major Symphony seems at first peremptory, but Coates maintains its organic volatility as a motto that refuses to relent. On my original LP incarnation, some opening measures had been lost for the Andante cantabile, but all is well in the Pristine disc. In his earlier, 1923, recording, Coates takes the repeat in this slow movement, which he omits here. Neither will take the first movement repeat in the Beethoven Eroica. Whatever the limits imposed upon Coates by the recording medium, he educes a pungent response throughout in his strings, winds, tympani, and brass. Trained as he had been in Russian musical aesthetics, Coates brings considerable girth to everything he touches. His penchant for speedy tempos appears part and parcel of his musical temperament. Wait until you hear the Mannheim rocket figures, both in the finale of the Mozart and the coda section of Eroica!
It seems a charming coincidence that two Russian conductors of equally “epic” temper – namely, Koussevitzky and Coates – should harbor a fondness for Mozart’s 1786 singspiel comedy, The Impraesario. Koussevitzky waited until 1949 to inscribe the Overture, while Coates turns in a marvelously rambunctious reading from 26 August 1927. Besides the brisk line from the upper strings, listen to the low grumblings from the LSO basses. The ensuing polyphony proceeds in lean, muscular figures, testimony to the Nikisch quip to the enthusiastic Coates that he should lead an orchestra with a whip! The level of homogeneous sound likely could not be equaled except by Mravinsky in Leningrad, via more “authoritarian” means.
Given that record producers and the Beethoven Society in Great Britain were well aware that 1927 would mark the centennial of Beethoven’s death, the glut of Beethoven inscriptions on shellacs needs no apology. So, it remains no small irony that Coates, looked over by the “official” Beethoven authorities in terms of Centennial documents, turns in one of the most viable, enduring realizations of the Eroica in the history of recorded sound. The balance of lithe mass and delicacy of melodic articulation continues to impress us, along with unceasing tension Coates generates through the performance. There might be much of “Wagner” in the Coates Beethoven, but the application of titanic gestures owes as much legitimacy, one composer to the other. Coates and Koussevitzky share the heroic sensibility in their music-making, and we owe restoration editor Mark Obert-Thorn yet another debt of gratitude for the eminently pungent sonic reproduction of these venerable texts.