Sunday, 17 April 2016

Eric Coates: Last Love-Romance

Last Love: Romance is one of Eric Coates delightful miniature tone poems. It was written in 1939, and received its first broadcast during an evening concert on the BBC Home Service on 8 December of that year. The BBC Theatre Orchestra was conducted by Stanford Robinson. The liner notes of The Definitive Eric Coates explain that the composer struggled with this work. He wrote to Robinson: ‘I am in the throes of orchestrating a short Romance –it is extraordinary how difficult it is to make a simple piece interesting to play; there seems to be nothing to work on somehow’.

It has been noted that in 1939 Coates seemed to be composing relatively little. Only the present piece and Footlights -Concert Valse were composed then. The previous year had seen the ballet The Enchanted Garden as well as the first performance of the Seven Seas March. There were also a few songs. The following year, 1940, saw the hugely successful Calling All Workers March as well as the orchestral ‘I sing to you’. In the same year lyrics were added by Jack Lawrence to Coates’ great hit, By the Sleepy Lagoon. It was not until 1943 that the flow of major orchestral works began to flow again with the Four Centuries Suite and the ever popular Three Elizabeth Suite (1945).

Last Love has a rhapsodic feel to it: Michael Payne, in his The Life and Music of Eric Coates (Oxford, Ashgate, 2016) has described it as a ‘song without words.’ The work is constructed in ternary form, however Payne points out that it is largely monothematic, with the ‘B-section’ being a reprise of the opening A-section, but played faster.
This miniature is a beautiful evocation of a languid mood of reflection and perhaps even remorse. I guess that the title could suggest the memory of the lover that has just departed, or maybe, the listener feels that no-one could ever replace the personality their ‘last love’. Whatever the emotions evoked, it is a romantic piece that pushes beyond the trite to something deeper and more expressive. In spite of the composer’s doubts, it is beautifully orchestrated.
The score, with 14 orchestral parts, was published by Chappell & Co. in 1940. A piano reduction had been published by the same company in 1939.      

A number of recordings exist of this work. The earliest was by Eric Coates himself recorded at Abbey Road Studios on 31 January 1940. It was released on Columbia DX 966, coupled with the vivacious Footlights–Concert Valse (1939). Interestingly, Coates substitutes the vibraphone for the scored glockenspiel in this recording.  It has since been reissued on CD (Nimbus NI 6131). In 1940 Columbia released in America the 78rpm disc (7408-M) featuring the Light Symphony Orchestra conducted by Coates. ‘Side A’ featured Sleepy Lagoon played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra also conducted by the composer.

The reviewer of Columbia DX 966 in The Gramophone (May 1940) suggested that ‘if anyone thinks it too easy to turn out Last Loves, let him try…as lots of us in aspiring youth have tried – and be abashed. Even in experienced age, few can serve up these nothings so well. But surely this ought to be entitles Latest – but not Last –Loves?’  
In 1993 Marco Polo issued a selection of orchestral music, including Last Love on 8.223521. The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Andrew Penny. Finally, ASV released 10 orchestral pieces, The Enchanted Garden with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by John Wilson.  There is no YouTube upload. 

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