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Cyril SCOTT (1879–1970)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C (1913-14):
(Allegro maestoso [17:21]; Adagio [10:28]; Allegro poco moderato [11:43])
Early One Morning: Poem for Piano and Orchestra (1931, rev. 1962) [14:47]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (c.1958):
(Con moto [12:27]; Tranquillo [5:54]; Energico [6:51])
John Ogdon (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Hermann
rec. 1977 (Piano Concerto No. 1 in C); 1975 (Early One Morning and Piano Concerto No. 2). ADD
LYRITA SRCD.251 [79:44]

"Few composers belonging to the "lost generation" of English Romantics stand in such urgent need of rehabilitation as Cyril Scott" - so wrote the late Christopher Palmer in his excellent and insightful notes to the first part of this disc.

Cyril Scott was a prodigy and happily his parents recognised his gifts. He was dispatched to Frankfurt at the age of 12 to study with Humperdinck and returned there aged 16 to begin more sustained studies with Iwan Knorr along with a number of "British" compatriots including Percy Grainger, Norman O’Neill, Balfour Gardiner and Roger Quilter (the so-called ‘Frankfurt Group’).

Scott achieved a prominent reputation in the years immediately preceding and following the Great War and was a highly respected composer in continental circles, especially admired by Debussy - whose knowledge of British music was second to none. After that, interest in his music declined precipitously and he is now virtually forgotten apart from some of his piano pieces. Interestingly, like Coates, his English publisher, Elkin, only required lighter pieces such as piano solos and songs, whilst his German publisher, Schott, was interested in larger-scale pieces – very telling! Tragically and ironically, the original manuscripts of many of his major works were destroyed in allied bombing raids during World War II.

This disc features John Ogdon and the LPO under the anglophile American composer and conductor, Bernard Herrmann. The CD begins with the First Piano Concerto, which The Times music critic described as a work of "unique importance" after its first performance by the composer with the Queen’s Hall Orchestra and Beecham at the Festival of British Music in May 1915. This is indeed a seminal work and fully deserves to be in the repertoire. Although it is scored for fairly small orchestra it is at times lush, exotic and crushingly chromatic. Not least, it is forward-looking and could easily have been composed in the late 1920s or early 1930s. For instance, the staccato piano chords in the last movement cadenza stand comparison with the much later concerto of Britten, and some chordal sequences even remind one of Gershwin. The use of the celesta adds to the exotic feeling of much of the score and brings to mind Neptune from the Planets. The second movement has an almost hallucinogenic quality. The final movement is rousing and virtuosic, and brings the work to a magnificent conclusion. Both Ogdon and Herrmann are clearly enraptured by the work and were to be congratulated for making this pioneering recording back in 1977. However, the rapture on occasion heads towards reticence and introspection and they could possibly be criticised for a certain degree of self-indulgence, especially in the timings. After all, we do have a very recent recording with which to make comparison in Howard Shelley with Martin Brabbins and the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos. They manage to knock an amazing 6 minutes off the timing of the first movement alone! It is in the central, rather ruminative, section of the first movement that the difference is mainly observed. Quite honestly, a degree of introspection and relaxation is needed at times and I find this performance engaging and penetrating enough to convince me of the importance of the work and to be angered by its neglect.

Roger Wimbush provided the background information for the two other recordings on this CD. The less substantial and more populist variations on Early One Morning follows, in a version rescored by the composer for one rather than two pianos and orchestra. It is lushly scored for strings with the piano often having an obbligato accompanying role. The rather dreamily romantic sections are interspersed with tougher and more clashing interludes; but we are never far away from the theme, which constantly recurs in various, intriguing guises and harmonies.

The Second Piano concerto was composed much later (1958) and at a time when Scott, due to outright ostracism by the so-called musical elite, turned to composition purely for his own distraction rather than for any chance of performance. Indeed the score is only available in manuscript form and this recording may indeed have been its first outing. A second recording is now available on Chandos with the same team that produced the First Piano concerto. The Second is a much shorter work, and for 1958 is clearly not as avant-garde as the First was in 1913, but it still has great interest. After a gruff opening sequence, the first movement winds down to a rather reflective and rhapsodic middle section before finishing strongly. The second movement is very short and occupies a similar sound-world to the second movement of the First Concerto composed 40 years earlier. Perhaps its less mystical quality is due to the absence of the celesta - as in the First Concerto. Indeed, the movement quickly transgresses many tonal boundaries before Scott introduces an extended section of unaccompanied piano chords and arpeggios and then comes quietly to a conclusion. The final movement continues where the second left off and both Ogdon and the LPO give a fine and purposeful performance of what is often rather episodic music tersely and sparsely scored. There then follows a heavy and gruff section for piano with chromatic chordal clusters - rasping brass and strident string interjections - before the work comes to a satisfying close.

This then was a remarkable and pioneering recording and it is wonderful to have it available again, this time on CD. For those who wish to have both concertos on one disc it is clearly a winner. However, others have opined that the performances of the two concertos on separate discs by Shelley and Brabbins with the BBC Philharmonic are probably superior. Both, I think, have their place.

Em Marshall

See also reviews by Rob Barnett and John Quinn

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