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Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Complete Piano Sonatas and Other Works for Piano

Piano Sonata No.1 Op.66 (1909) [22:14]
Piano Sonata No.2 (1935) [14:33]
Piano Sonata No.3 (1956) [17:15]
Sphinx Op.63 (1908) [4:27]
Rainbow Trout (1916) [3:53]
Rondeau de Concert (1918) [5:30]
Ballad (1920) [6:52]
Victorian Waltz (1963) [3:34]
Michael Schäfer (piano)
Rec. in Studio 1, Bavarian Radio, April 2003
GENUIN GEN 85049 [78.19]


In a deadpan biographical paragraph we’re told that pianist Michael Schäfer "has a propensity for featuring unusual repertoire …and has been instrumental in surprising the descendents of forgotten composers with unexpected royalty earnings." Gone Cyril Scott may be but forgotten, well, probably not – not even during the arid days of his near total absence from the catalogues. Things have now changed with regard to Scott and this is especially true of Leslie De’ath and Dutton’s presentation of the solo piano works.

That said Schäfer offers an entirely divergent response to the sonatas. He is startlingly quicker. In the Op.66 sonata for example he is an astonishing six minutes quicker, clocking in at around the twenty-two minute mark. It gives the sonata a sense of propulsive urgency, a breathless dynamism that is contrastingly at odds with De’ath’s plausible view of the work. De’ath is far more horizontal in conception, chordally expansive, impressionistic in places. Schäfer sees the sonata in more declamatory and unsettled terms – the second movement especially so – and with harder edged tone and more percussive playing his playing abjures De’ath’s pliancy and relaxation. Incidentally I should add, lest one thinks this a criticism of the German player, that we know that Percy Grainger timed the sonata at 25 ˝ minutes – and nineteen with Grainger’s cuts – so Schäfer is as under the timing as De’ath is over it, by Grainger’s computation at least.

These are consistent viewpoints throughout the cycle of sonatas. In the Scriabinesque Second Sonata we find that Schäfer’s big chordal flourishes contrast with the Canadian De’ath’s more considered pianism. The latter offers far fewer in the way of epic dynamic contrasts, preferring a more consonant sense of mood. Schäfer is hard-edged, insistent, less sensitive to nuance and turn of phrase. And for all the excitement he generates there is a sense that the sonata has been too vividly telescoped, too tensely argued.

The Third Sonata reprises the stark angularity of Schäfer’s take on Scott. There is none of De’ath’s warmly sympathetic unfolding of texture; if the Canadian sees Scott in oils, for Schäfer it’s a question of Cubism. Both men adopt the same tempo for the second movement but with Schäfer’s more pressing accents the view becomes more rhythmically rigid, lacking rather in the kind of leavening wit that De’ath manages to excavate in the music. Ultimately this can lead to moments that in the finale begin to sound rather disjointed. Marked Grave this is what De’ath gives us, adding increasing lyric impulse, and a wide wash of tonal colour. Schäfer uses far more pedal in the opening flourish, which is less grave and more ominous; tension is the German’s watchword in fact for much of the time in his Scott immersion. The consequence is that the finale becomes fractured emotively.

To round up the disc to an impressively generous seventy-eight minutes there is a handful of smaller pieces. Sphinx is actually slightly slower than De’ath’s performance on Dutton but far less evocative. Rainbow Trout is a darting joy but it glints more, and more quickly still, with the composer playing it back in 1928 on a rather murkily transferred HMV – you will find it as an enticing appendix to one of the Dea’th-Dutton volumes. Still, it’s valuable to have the 1920 Ballad and the late 1963 Victorian Waltz together – very disparate but frequently overlooked.

The performances are rather mirrored by a slightly unyielding recording that does little to clothe the driving hardness of the playing. And for those who side with the idea of Scott as a one-man Cubist vortex then Schäfer is a suitably driven guide.

Jonathan Woolf


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