Noël Coward

The Compact Coward

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The first CD ever issued on Noel Coward's work is, understandably, a bit sketchy, containing 70 minutes of music dating between April of 1928 and December of 1951, thus bridging a 23-year arc in Coward's life and career. "Medley, Pt. 1," which opens the collection, comes from 1951, when Coward was embarking on the performing career in cabaret that would sustain his reputation and lifestyle into the 1960s -- the voice and the wit are still there, perhaps less playful and more wry than what listeners hear on his classic material. All of the rest of this collection save one track dates from the '20s to the mid-'40s, when Coward occupied the center of popular culture in the English-speaking world as no author since Oscar Wilde had done. The mixture of style, wit, romance, and satire, wrapped in an astonishing, off-handed simplicity, is all the more dazzling because it still rings through 70 years later; "Mad Dogs and Englishmen," "Mary Make Believe," "Mrs. Worthington," and "Parisian Pierrot" are still among the funniest, cleverest songs and performances ever recorded. There are also two tracks, an excerpt from "Private Lives" (including "Someday I'll Find You") and an excerpt from "Red Peppers," that feature Coward and his longtime leading lady, Gertrude Lawrence, together. There are also a few cuts dating from the World War II period, and it might be instructive for listeners in the early part of the 21st century to recall how much wit and humor the Allies held onto, on their side, during that war -- "Could You Please Oblige Us With a Bren Gun" ("If you can't oblige us with a Bren gun, the home guard might as well go home") simply has no equivalent in any modern wartime era. On the negative side, there is minimal annotation, and the CD was done so early in the digital era that the material sounds substandard even for '30s-era recordings, technology having improved significantly since 1989.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 2:57
2 2:51 Amazon
3 3:11
4 2:02 Amazon
5 3:45 Amazon
6 4:39
7 3:24
8 1:22
9 6:18
10 8:47
11 2:32 Amazon
12 2:29 Amazon
13 2:23
14 3:26 Amazon
15 3:20 Amazon
16 3:38 Amazon
17 3:29 Amazon
18 2:53
19 3:28
20 3:37
blue highlight denotes track pick