I'm puzzled by this release, especially as it is listed as a "Vol 1" in a series.
First, Chandos already has a wonderful, 80-minute disc of the music of Eric Coates, conducted by Rumon Gamba with this same orchestra (the BBC Philharmonic, 2002). That CD is an absolute knock-out, containing all the real "greatest hits", with sparkling, energetic music-making and superb sound - rather unlike this latest one from John Wilson, I'm afraid.
Second, Mr. Wilson has already recorded a lot of Coates. There are two late-1990s discs of orchestral works and miniatures for ASV with the BBC Concert Orchestra. Then he made another collection with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 2005, for Avie Records. And in 2008, back to the BBC Concert Orchestra he went to record yet another collection for Dutton Epoch. Now he takes up this repertoire again, this time with the BBC Philharmonic for Chandos.
The good news is that there is very little duplication - so far - in all these discs. This new Chandos series, however, starts off with three. From the ASV recordings, Wilson here duplicates The Dancing Nights and the first of the Two Symphonic Rhapsodies. And he duplicates the London Everyday Suite with Gamba's Chandos disc. One has to expect many more duplicates will be inevitable with future installments.
What bothers me the most, however, is that the inspiration from the podium is several notches below what we'd expect. Mr. Wilson now sounds just a little tired of it all and the music lacks the charm, sparkle and sheer joy found in his earlier recordings. Then there is the sound. I was surprised Chandos chose not to release this on SACD, as would have been expected based on prior successes with that format and this conductor (namely the Copland and Bennett series). And listening to it, I can hear why. This is not one of Chandos's best-sounding recordings. It's a little claustrophobic/congested, a bit hard in climaxes, and overall lacks air and spaciousness. This soundscape may very well be part of the reason the music doesn't seem to smile as much as it should.
And finally, an unfortunate programming blunder: just as the final, gentle sounds of the lovely By The Sleepy Lagoon fade into nothingness, all of a sudden...BAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The hugely loud, hard, bombastic opening note of the London Suite blast into the listening room without warning (with some audible distortion in the recording, I might add), quite ruining the mood and annoying the hell out of me. And what follows continues to be loud, bombastic and too fast - completely devoid of charm. I just can't imagine what anyone involved with this had in mind here.
After being rather bored with this first volume in the new Chandos series, I dusted off Wilson's ASV discs from my shelves and sat down for a quick listen. And I couldn't for a moment turn it off! I thoroughly enjoyed them and was pleased to hear ASV's brighter, more immediate house-sound suited these scores perfectly.
While I welcome new recordings of this composer's delightfully lighthearted music, I'm afraid this series from John Wilson is superfluous. I can only guess he would like to memorialize his recordings of this composer in an integral set for a single label. But, frankly, the music of Eric Coates doesn't really justify such extravagance, especially when he's already recorded so much of it and there are so many neglected composers he could (should) turn to. For those interested in this repertoire, I'd highly recommend starting with Gamba's fabulous Chandos CD, or any of Wilson's earlier recordings.