The Three Elizabeths
is a two-disc compilation of Naxos recordings and takes its title from an eponymous suite by Eric Coates composed in 1944 to celebrate the childhood, youth and monarchy of Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Naxos extends the title to include also the reigns of Elizabeth I and II emphasising the Coates connection by beginning each section with a movement from his suite. The brasses and tiddly-pom clarinets of Coates' Halcyon Days
sit oddly with the pieces by Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Dowland and others which make up the Virgin Queen's tribute. At least the performances are well chosen although the yokellish pronunciation of Elizabethan English in the Rose Consort contributions are a little too contrived.
The selection of pieces for the 20th-century Elizabeths depicts the stiff-upper-lip determination to enjoy life which the royals have maintained. This served them well in the war (cue Walton's Spitfire Prelude and Fugue and Coates' Dambusters March) but has given them a reputation for shallowness in peace-time. Three of the composers featured here (Coates, Robert Farnon and Haydn Wood) are best known for their TV and radio themes. Indeed there seems to have been a conscious decision to avoid the challenging--Britten's Gloriana is not even included--in favour of the trite. The closest to profound the second disc comes is Walton's Te Deum which is taken from Naxos' superb CD of the choir of St John's Cambridge. The largest chunk of the recording is given to Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs which is the excusable opportunity for the audience to let off steam at the end of the Proms. Now you can make rude noises during the "Hornpipe" in the comfort of your own home. --Rick Jones