Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Eric Coates: Lazy Night - a valse romance

 During the 1920’s Coates’s began to make a considerable amount of money from his compositions. He and his wife, Phyllis, were able to buy a house at Selsey in Sussex. This was to be a retreat when he wanted to get away from London.
Writing in his autobiography, Coates wrote that the house was in “one of the most barren spots on the South coast.” However the contrast of this “unpretentious village, with its bathing, its glorious beaches and the life-giving air” was to act as the perfect restorative to the pressures of the Capital. The house itself was on the main street and was regarded by the Coates family as the ‘bathing box’ from where they could walk on a hot summer’s day to the beach and bathe in waters as clear and almost as warm as you would find in any South Sea Lagoon.
It was at this time that Eric Coates wrote one of his most celebrated pieces – Sleepy Lagoon (1930), which is still the signature tune for Desert Island Discs. How many folk listen to this music and feel that it must have been inspired by somewhere in the Seychelles rather than Bognor Regis!
Yet one of the lesser known works of this period is the valse romance Lazy Night. This was composed in 1932 but failed to catch the public imagination. It was recorded in 1938 by the Cedric Sharpe Sextet and was not heard again on disc until the 1988 recording by the BBC Concert Orchestra under John Wilson on ASV. A short extract of the earlier recording can be heard on Amazon. A decade later the piece was recorded by Andrew Penny and the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra on the Marco Polo Label. It has since been transferred to the Naxos label. (Scroll through to find the extract)
qqqLazy Night is full of ‘Coates style’ atmospherics. However it is not a miniature tone poem musically painting images of the sun setting over the beach at Selsey. It is much more active than that. The clue is in its subtitle – 'valse romance'. This is music that is evocative of someone dreaming, perhaps whilst sitting in the garden of a big art deco hotel in Bournemouth and hearing the waltz music in the ballroom. Maybe the listener is waiting on his lover’s arrival? Or perhaps she will never come... However,  there is a warmth to this music that suggests contentedness rather than sadness. Coates makes uses of a lovely tune that is repeated over and over again with slight changes to the harmony and orchestration. Good use is made of sweeping strings and some introspective woodwind writing.
Needless to say, there has been little attention in the media and reviews of this piece are few and far between. However, on MusicWeb International, Ian Lace has noted that “Lazy Night has a nice dreamy atmosphere which is just as satisfying as Wilson's more hurried but nicely turned version.” Another reviewer has suggested that this piece is a ‘mirror image’ of Sleepy Lagoon. I can find no reference top the piece in Geoffrey Self’s otherwise helpful 'In Town Tonight' study of the composer. It is not even mentioned in the ‘list of works.’

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