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Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Symphony No. 3, ‘The Musesa (1937) [34’45]. Piano Concerto No. 2b (1958) [20’16]. Neptune (1933, rev. 1935) [24’22].
bHoward Shelley (piano); aHuddersfield Choral Society
BBC Philharmonic/Martyn Brabbins. DDD
No rec. info. available.
CHANDOS CHAN10211 [79’32]

It was hearing Paderewski, no less, that made Cyril Scott decide to become a musician. Scott was also to come into contact with both Debussy and Ravel (apparently Debussy referred to Scott as ‘one of the rarest artists of the present’). In turn, he was to teach Edmund Rubbra. Eugene Goossens called him the ‘father of British modern music’.

Much of Scott’s music is influenced by mystical thought, especially that of Theosophy (which he took up after he had heard a lecture by Annie Besant). Scriabin and Szymanowski are also invoked by his works..

Scott studied with Ivan Knorr (an extremely well respected composition teacher) and also with Humperdinck in Frankfurt, taking piano with Lazarro Uzielli – among his peers were Percy Grainger and Roger Quilter. The Debussy and Ravel influences are immediately apparent in the Third Symphony (unsurprisingly, given his Theosophist leanings, it is not hard to imagine Scriabin in the shadows, either).

The Symphony No. 3, ‘The Muses’, (the third of his three symphonies) is a remarkable work. Each of the four movements bears the name of one of the Muses as its title: Melpomene (Muse of Tragedy); Thalia (Muse of Comedy and of Playful and Idyllic Poetry); Erato (Muse of Poetry and Mimicry); and Terpsichore (Muse of Dance). ‘Melpomene’ begins with the utmost delicacy (almost Ravelian, in fact). It soon becomes apparent that Scott has a huge orchestrational and harmonic palette to choose from, while a vital rhythmic sense keeps the music alive. The gentle ‘Thalia’ exhibits orientalist leanings while ‘Erato’ is positively fragrant (the beginning is so quiet as to be near-inaudible). A wordless chorus graces the final portrait (‘Terpsichore’) – here we enter the world of ‘Sirènes’ from Debussy’s orchestral Nocturnes.

Interestingly the Piano Concertos have previously been available on a Lyrita LP recorded in the mid-seventies (SRCS81/82), where the soloist was John Ogdon and the conductor Bernard Herrmann. Here the tireless Howard Shelley is the protagonist. Scott was an accomplished pianist himself, and he certainly wrote with authority (and pulled no punches, either!). Shelley pulls no punches (a hard edge to the piano sound on occasion is, I suspect, deliberate), and together he and Brabbins bring out the dramatic in the first movement (somewhat innocently carrying the tempo designation of ‘Con moto’). The perfumed harmonies of the ‘Tranquillo pastorale’ act as aural balm, then become progressively more impassioned. Shelley’s powers of clear articulation become apparent in the finale (‘Energico’) – his staccato can seem to laugh most appealingly.

Neptune (‘Poem of the Sea’, a revised version of the symphonic poem Disaster at Sea) begins with an ‘Andante’ which includes Impressionist washes of sound and brass chorales that are reminiscent of Debussy’s brass writing in La mer – here they lead to a massive climactic chord that Richard Strauss would have been proud of, coloured by organ. Some of the ensuing string writing is of almost preternatural delicacy and a special mention should go to the oboist, whose solo is most expressively phrased. A brief, more agitated ‘Con moto’ (1’40 long) leads to a ‘Tempo di valse’ that is as elusive as it is sensual. An ‘Allegro agitato’ begins with an explosion of Scriabinesque angst – even the quieter sections of this movement carry turbulent undercurrents. A final ‘Adagio molto’ (a kind of Wagner with the edges rounded off) forms a touchingly intense conclusion.

It would appear that Cyril Scott is a composer who has just been sat waiting to be discovered. Further exploration could take one in the direction of various Cyril Scott CDs. There is Marco Polo’s orchestral disc (8.223485). Tremula's piano solo recital by Chris Howell can be ordered from www.jansmusic.co.uk or enquiries can be addressed to jan@jansmusic.co.uk; there is a review at
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/Sept02/Scott.htm; Etcetera issued an all-piano disc played by Dennis Hennig on KTC1132. This has been deleted but reissued as reviewed here at http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/May02/Scott_Hennig.htm and

Scott’s output was large (including operas and ballets on top of a large body of solo piano music) – so there is plenty more to discover. There is no doubt, though, that Chandos have done him proud, with superb performances and a recording of demonstration quality.

The Third Symphony and Neptune are première recordings; the Piano Concerto No. 2 appears for the first time on CD. This is an essential purchase.

Colin Clarke

See also Chris Howells recording of Scott Piano Music

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