Cecil Coles, Gustav Holst: Piano Music

Behind the lines of the Western Front, the young Scottish composer Cecil Coles sent his friend and mentor Gustav Holst a score, stained with mud and blood. Only one movement survived: the rest was believed destroyed by enemy action.Four months later Coles himself was killed in battle rescuing injured comrades.

James Willshire’s groundbreaking survey of his piano music reveals a composer finding his voice in pre-war Britain, France and Germany, a poignant and distinctive blend of ‘happy–sad’, as Nigel Osborne’s perceptive notes describe it.After the war, Holst’s own work shows him returning to his fascination with folk music with ‘fresh ears of almost shocking clarity’, in harmonic experiments that parallel those of Bartók.

The recital culminates in a compelling performance of Iain Farrington’s new arrangement of one of Holst’s orchestral masterpieces, a bleak, ambitious depiction of Thomas Hardy’s ‘untameable, inviolate’ Egdon Heath.

"James Willshire is renowned for his virtuosity and intelligence of his keyboard mastery, and all this is on display in this recital ... His technical brilliance is awesome, and his approach to these very rare pieces cannot be commended highly enough. British piano music is still a relative rarity in today's concert halls around Europe, so this issue is indeed timely. Hopefully, it can stir more interest in this treasure trove of a repertoire that has many riches in store for those interested in its exploration"


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The story of Cecil Coles is fascinating and poignant ... His music only came to light again over the past 20 years, most of which reveals a skilful if largely conservative Romantically-focused craftsmanship. James Willshire’s new solo piano album places Coles’ music in direct relationship with Holst’s. From Coles we hear not only delightful and sometimes skittish character pieces, but the Lisztian theatricality of the Sonata in C minor ... an enriching coupling"

★ ★ ★ ★

"This curious juxtaposition of composers brings to light a barely known, manifestly talented Scottish figure killed at 29 in the First World War. The composer Nigel Osborne characterises Coles’s fluent idiom as “happy-sad”, and Variations on an Original Themecertainly has a memorable poignancy, salonish but a bit deeper. The seven Holst items begin with a bracing, brief Toccata and end with Iain Farrington’s arrangement of the remarkable tone poem Egdon Heath"

"sophisticated and advanced stylistically and very well worth a listen ... Throughout this programme James Willshire proves a technically and stylistically apt interpreter. He knows better than to overstate Coles’ youthful works or to exploit Holst’s use of Northumberland melodies beyond natural constraints"


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"Pianist James Willshire is born to play this music; and Scottish composer Cecil Coles is a real discovery ..."


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Recorded on 28-29 August 2020in The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Piano: Steinway, Model D, serial no. 599478 (2015)
Piano technician: Norman Motion
Producer/Engineer: Paul Baxter
24-bit digital editing: Paul Baxter
24-bit digital mastering: Paul Baxter
Design: Drew Padrutt,Booklet editor: Henry Howard
Cover: Walter Tyndale (1855–1943), Bere Heathin Autumn with Gallows Hill in the Distance,chromolithographed plate from Clive Holland andWalter Tyndale, Wessex Painted and Described
(London: Adam and Charles Black, 1906): Niday

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