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Hyperion Records

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The Road from Arras to Bapaume (1917) by Christopher Richard Wayne Nevinson (1889-1946)
Imperial War Museum, London
Track(s) taken from CDH55464
Recording details: December 2001
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by John Timperley
Release date: June 2002
Total duration: 13 minutes 22 seconds

'A fascinating and rewarding discovery … performances, production and presentation are all past praise, and this is a disc already earmarked for my Critics’ Choice come the year’s end' (Gramophone)

'Excellent singing and committed playing on this disc' (BBC Music Magazine)

'It surely deserves a place in the repertory: English music has nothing quite like it' (The Sunday Telegraph)

'This handsomely presented disc is a rarity worth investigating' (The Observer)

'Coles’s own orchestral skills are amply demonstrated by the lush, full-bodied playing of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Coles emerges as one of the great lost hopes of British music' (The Independent)

'The six pieces recorded here justify the mourning of an unfulfilled talent' (International Record Review)

'I listened to it this week, and was moved to something dangerously adjacent to tears … what you chiefly hear in Coles’s compositions is nobility, haunting beauty and a strange, almost prophetic sense of tragedy’ (The Times)

'The works here show the power and intensity of a major talent' (Classic FM Magazine)

'My reactions to the music, even after listening to the disc for some weeks, still oscillate between amazement, melancholy, and gratitude, although they are gradually melding into a fusion of all three. I don’t doubt that it will affect you too' (Fanfare, USA)

'His music, touched by post-echoes of Brahms, Mendelssohn and Wagner, yet speaking unmistakably in its own accent, lives on in this outstandingly recorded new issue' (HMV Choice)

'The work’s surviving fragments receive their premiere recording on this Hyperion disc, which sees Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony doing a terrific job on behalf of the composer' (Music Week)

'The music is solemn, poignant and majestic in conductor Brabbins’ orchestration … a genius? Yes, I think so. A great loss to music? Absolutely' (MusicWeb International)

'Dedicated performances beautifully recorded and fervently commended' (Yorkshire Post)

'Hyperion Records are to be applauded for resurrecting Behind the lines and the other works included here … all is beautifully played and sung, and warmly recommended' (The Western Front Association)

'Les interprétations de Brabbins sont proches de l’idéal et les musiciens écossais servent leur compatriote avec ferveur et précision' (Le Monde de la Musique, France)

Fra Giacomo
First line:
Alas Fra Giacomo too late! But follow me
23 May 1914
author of text
1901; Fra Giacomo

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Given Coles’s active participation in the Stuttgart opera, it is perhaps not surprising that his affinities for post-Wagnerian opera should be evinced in his last, and arguably finest, work that survives intact, Fra Giacomo, a scena for baritone and orchestra. Coles took his text from Robert Williams Buchanan’s eponymous poem, published in 1901 (in the complete edition of Buchanan’s poetry). Though now little known, Buchanan enjoyed a certain vogue at the end of the nineteenth century for his macabre, shadowy, and often disturbing verse. This was certainly true of ‘Meg Blane’, which formed the subject of Coleridge-Taylor’s choral rhapsody in 1902, and ‘Fra Giacomo’, a lurid tale of revenge, is no exception. The tale, told in the first person by a Venetian merchant (probably during the Middle Ages or the Renaissance), begins with the urgent summoning of Fra Giacomo to the merchant’s house. He is to give last rites to the merchant’s dying wife. On arrival he is too late; she has died. Fra Giacomo is, nevertheless, detained while the merchant gives an engaging account of his romantic past, how he met his wife six years ago, how he fell in love with her, saw off all-comers, and married her. Yet his wife’s pious obser­vances and regular confession caused him to mistrust her, and one day he donned a monk’s clothing and listened, in place of her normal priest, to her confession. There, digging his nails into his palms, he discovers that his wife’s lover is none other than Fra Giacomo. At this point the monk understands the real motivation for his summons. The merchant’s wife has been poisoned and, having drunk a toast to the ‘saint upstairs at rest’, Fra Giacomo is to suffer a similar fate. At the hands of the merchant, his end is violent and his body is thrown into the canal, while orders are given for all the bells to toll at the convent.

Coles’s interpretation of Buchanan’s text is nothing short of masterly. His consummate understanding of Wagner’s seamless symphonic process, in which the orchestra plays the dominant role in terms of continuity and thematic develop­ment, is highly impressive. Moreover, in common with his post-Wagnerian contemporaries Strauss, Pfitzner, and Schreker, he exhibits that innate ability to create musical ideas that concisely represent underlying pictorial or abstract images. This is potently demonstrated in the chromatically descending ‘death’ motif (synonymous with the merchant), which domi­nates the first part of the scena in a portentous C minor and forms the momentous climax of the conclusion. Fra Giacomo’s fragment of pseudo-plainsong, announced in the brass, is also highly distinctive, and is used most effectively when it under­pins the merchant’s own scheme of hearing his wife’s confes­sion (‘In the Father Confessor’s place’). Here, with a dramatic subtlety worthy of Wagner, Fra Giacomo’s guilt is revealed. In addition to the brilliant and colourful orchestration (which is often reduced to pointillistic chamber music), Coles’s tonal scheme is also worthy of comment. Though based around C minor, much of the chromatic nuance is generated by the constant interjection of D flat. This pitch not only provides an unsettling Neapolitan inflection but also a means of modula­tion to A flat, a key which features prominently across the larger canvas. Of greatest impact, however, are the statements of the ‘death’ motif during the final act of murder (‘Take this! And this! And this!’) which are juxtaposed, first in C minor, and then in C sharp minor. Furthermore it is to C sharp minor that the climax recovers (‘Come raise him up, Pietro’) before C major reasserts itself as part of a declaration of heartrending regret, marked by the entry of a plaintive solo violin.

from notes by Jeremy Dibble © 2002

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