C1123. MASS in b (Bach), recorded 1929, w.Albert Coates Cond. London S.O., Philharmonic Choir, w.Elisabeth Schumann, Margaret Balfour, Walter Widdop & Friedrich Schorr. (Canada) 2–St Laurent Studio YSL 78-089. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Even if it had no other merit, the sheer daring of this bold British venture would assure it an honored place in the history of the phonograph – a full recording of a two-hour, barely-known work of highly select appeal. Ecstatically greeting it in the December 1929 Gramophone magazine, C. M. Crabtree stated: ‘For many people, the recording of Bach's B minor Mass complete will be the greatest thing that has happened since the first gramophone record was made.…There is, indeed, no greater undertaking ….’ Yet, he reserved most of his praise for the marvels of the work itself and, noting that ‘it makes supreme demands in every branch’….Clearly, [Elisabeth] Schumann was the star of this show…even though she appears in only three of the 24 movements). Although she was known at the time as an intimate, direct, radiant and charming lieder singer, that description fits the gentle, smooth, patient choral work more than the soloists' contributions, which tend more toward more showy operatic displays….Yet there are plenty of fine touches throughout – the second choral ‘Kyrie’ is enlivened by subtle shaping of each phrase, instrumental solos – especially the winds – are rendered lovingly and are nicely spotlighted. Schorr exudes a moving humility in his ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’ solo (although, curiously, not in his other aria, ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctus’, recorded the same day)….Heard in the context of all the recordings that followed, it emerges nowadays as largely a dutiful and functional rendition, lacking the zesty ardent spontaneity that Coates routinely brought to his brilliant series of recordings of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff and other late Romantic repertoire….recorded in 7 sessions over 10 weeks in London to accommodate the soloists' schedules, it's surprisingly fine and needs no apologies for its sincere, if ‘old-fashioned’, respectful approach.”
- Peter Gutmann Classical Notes
“Coates, born in Russia in 1882 to a Russian mother and a British father, came to maturity during the reign of Czar Nicholas II. He walked several miles through the snow to attend Tchaikovsky’s funeral, and in the early years of the 20th century he became one of Arthur Nikisch’s star pupils and later, his assistant. Nikisch saw what he had to work with and smiled: Coates was a big, brawny man who sometimes let his emotions get the better of his technique. Disgusted and disillusioned by the Bolshevik Revolution, Coates left Russia and fled to England, where he quickly established himself as a first-rate conductor.
Between 1921 and 1932, Coates made literally hundreds of sides for HMV, including the first electrical recordings of the Tchaikovsky Sixth and Borodin Second Symphonies, the first complete Bach Mass in B Minor (the soloists included Elisabeth Schumann and Friedrich Schorr), lots of Tchaikovsky, an early but incomplete recording of Holst’s THE PLANETS (Coates had given the first public performance of the work in 1920), Ravel’s LA VALSE, Respighi’s THE FOUNTAINS OF ROME (even beating Toscanini to the punch), and other works. Yet it was undoubtedly his long and distinguished series of Wagner recordings, using some of the greatest German and British singers of his day, that put his name on the map. Coates’ 1926 recording of Siegfried’s Funeral Music from GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG was the talk of the day among collectors, just as William Steinberg’s stereo recording of THE PLANETS was a famous test record of the early 1970s. It’s not only beautifully recorded but stunningly performed. Coates combined a linear conception of music with the weightiness of Furtwängler. He was, quite simply, a great conductor. Moreover, W.H. Auden, in one of his articles, once said that he timed several of Coates’ performances of Wagner and compared them to the known timings of Wagner’s own preferred conductors at Bayreuth. Much to everyone’s surprise, it was Coates’ incendiary performances that came closest to the timings of Bayreuth’s original conductors, who probably followed the composer’s directions.
Yet the astute reader will have noticed the strange gap: why were there no HMV recordings after 1932? All of a sudden, the label’s indispensable conductor for almost a decade became not only dispensable but ignored. Not one article or source on Coates I have ever read—and I’ve been trying to research him since the mid 1970s—has ever had an explanation for this.
Coates was one of the most exciting and vital conductors who ever graced a recording studio….everything conducted by Coates is superb. I might also point out that these recordings are also Hall of Fame material for the singing of tenor Walter Widdop, one of the most underrated Wagner tenors of all time…."
- Lynn René Bayley, FANFARE
“Walter Widdop recorded between 1924 and 1930. His Wagnerian recordings opposite Frida Leider, Göta Ljungberg and Florence Austral belong to the most important Wagner recordings ever made. Widdop is equally fine in oratorio music; his singing can be smooth as well as forceful in just the right proportions.”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“Each of these disks, from Canadian engineer Yves St Laurent… [feature] St Laurent's natural transfer – made without filtering, like all his dubbings – it is easy to listen to, despite the surface noise.”
- Tully Potter, CLASSICAL RECORD QUARTERLY, Summer, 2011