I recently reviewed Dennis Hennig’s ABC Classics Eloquence
disc of Scott’s music (465 737-2). It was recorded in 1991, two years
before Christopher Howell’s selection and only the Op 35 Pierrot Pieces
overlap – otherwise the discs are complementary. Howell’s recital takes
on a broadly chronological approach to works written between 1903-29
and in his notes touches lightly upon the vexed question of the influences
on Scott’s music. He makes a case for the distinctiveness, the apartness
of Scott’s aesthetic whilst, of course, not shirking the impressionistic
milieu in which the composer was often to position himself, and those
composers – Delius, Debussy, Grainger - who clearly did influence him.
That many of the pieces here can be considered "light" does
not preclude layers of complexity or harmonic suggestiveness. Howell’s
decision to programme the recital in essentially compositional order
also affords one the opportunity to trace the trajectory of Scott’s
ambitions over a near thirty-year span.
He brings out the rather frivolous salon style of the
Valse from the first of the 1903 Six Pieces as well as the immediately
succeeding nobility of tread of the Adagio serioso. Howell is sensitive
to dynamics, especially so in the case of the Folk-song where his rubato
is expertly judged. The two Pierrot pieces emerge here as rather less
trivial and pat than they usually appear; the second in particular,
whilst still undeniably decorative and shallow is nevertheless more
robustly enjoyable than I’d ever remembered it. Sea-Marge – Meditation
was dedicated to Sir Edgar and Lady Speyer – he was a cousin of Edward
Speyer, Elgar’s great friend – maybe to commemorate a foreign trip.
This is, according to Ian Parrott’s book on the composer, an abbreviated
choral prelude with some evocative chromaticism. The Impressions from
the Jungle Book was new to me and a real find. Hypnotic or slowly evolving
from the texture of the music there is a tactility, an evolving drama
in these little pieces that seems to move beyond the merely descriptive,
indeed beyond the original source itself. The Russian Air from the 1916
A Little Russian Suite is a wistful and noble tune with a hint of the
baroque. I especially liked Howell’s stabbing attacks in the Dance.
In Moods a sense of becalmed post-War stasis is palpable as is a corresponding
vitality in the vigorous third movement called Energy.
Notes are by Christopher Howell himself and the recording
quality is up to Tremula’s standards. As a survey of Scott’s compositional
directions in the first third of the twentieth century this disc carries
with it sensitivity and conviction.