BBC Philharmonic
John Wilson conductor


Volume 1 of Coates’ orchestral music was issued in 2019, and now, five years on, we have reached volume 4. As has been the custom, significant works are interleaved with shorter lighter ones, thus providing a balanced overview of Coates’ achievements

There are two stand-out items here – The Three Bears Phantasy, and the Four Centuries suite.

These somehow seem to a degree familiar, perhaps because of memories from the time Coates’ music was much heard on the radio.  The Three Bears has a minutely detailed programme, and its charm resides in recognition that the whimsy of some children’s stories can also appeal to adults (for another instance, A A Milne and Christopher Robin).  In this music said charm derives from the quality of the invention and the memorability of the tunes.

Four Centuries of 1941 is a major achievement. The 17th is represented by Prelude and Hornpipe, the 18th by Pavane and Tambourin, the 19th by Valse and Scherzando, and the 20th by Rhythm.

The Hornpipe is a vigorous fugue, so entrancing that as soon as I heard it, I had to play it again, while the soulful Pavane remains fast in the memory (in fact has become an earworm).  The Valse captures the essence of the Viennese Strauss era, while Rhythm could have been written by Gershwin.  The excellent notes by Richard Bratby record that the Pooh-Bahs at the BBC pressured Sir Henry Wood to refuse to play the suite at the Proms.

The point which I have made before is that, technically, every constituent of successful composition – melody, harmony, counterpoint, form and orchestration is manifestly evident in these scores. You can now download and see for yourself some of the scores from

The other longer work in this compilation is the semi-autobiographical From Meadow to Mayfair, tracing in three movements the composer’s steps from rural Nottinghamshire to the Great Wen. The first movement Rustic Dance could have been written by Edward German, and the third Evening in Town, as in Rhythm above, captures the essence of 20’s popular music.

The other items on the disc do not here require special mention but testify to Coates’ skills and versatility. Performance and recording here are well up to what we expect from the team. 

Finally, at the back of the notes there is a wonderful picture of sound engineer Stephen Rinker being supervised by a watching posse of three cuddly bears

Review by Geoffrey Atkinson