Although he composed throughout his life, up to three weeks
before his death, by which time he was almost forgotten, Scott’s
music has never really been accepted. In that sense his fate
was similar to that of many of his contemporaries, such as Havergal
Brian, Granville Bantock, and, more recently, Rutland Boughton.
I think that the reason is easy to understand – Scott wrote
too much, hasn’t had a real champion, and hasn’t secured the
broadcasts of his bigger works in the last 30 or 40 years. That
said, John Ogdon, with the LPO under Bernard Herrmann, recorded
the Piano Concertos and the Poem, Early One Morning
in 1974 (now available on Lyrita SRCD 251). In 1995 (Fairest
Isle year), the BBC gave extended excerpts from his opera, The
Alchemist (1917). In 2006 there was a live performance of
the Violin Concerto, by Olivier Charlier with the BBC
Philharmonic under Martyn Brabbins, the day before they recorded
it for Chandos as part of that company’s Scott orchestral edition
(running to 4 CDs). Dutton have also issued four volumes of
piano music, three of the string quartets and the Piano Quartet
and Piano Quintet. All treasures indeed, but few and far between!
Debussy, whom Scott knew, and to whom he dedicated his Second
Piano Suite, op.75, wrote, “Cyril Scott is one of the rarest
artists of the present generation” and the Suite was well received
when Scott gave the premiere in Paris. In 1918, Paul, Trench
& Trubner published a biography of Scott by A Eaglefield
Hull, which begins with the statement, “The dominant feature
of Cyril Scott’s music is its originality, that is to say, its
modernity. He is an innovator.” Later, “In studying Cyril Scott’s
music we shall find there the key to his richly–endowed personality,
a personality modern, intuitive, sensitive, complex, unified
and sincere.” Big claims indeed. But did Scott deserve them?
Certainly, some of the big, early, scores are impressive but
I cannot find the “modernity” or the voice of an “innovator”.
Obviously my thoughts are coloured by my knowledge of what followed,
but although the music is strong, and always interesting, whether
it be a salon piece such as Lotus Land or his setting,
for chorus and orchestra, of Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci
(1916). It’s in his use of harmony where the interest lies.
A friend of mine, on hearing Scott’s 3rd Piano
Sonata for the first time, commented, “it’s amazing how
he can keep going in such an idiom!” and there it is. Scott’s
hidden depths are not always immediately apparent. One tends
to take harmony for granted and listen to the top line – the
tune – but here one must listen underneath the façade.
These three Violin Sonatas span Scott’s whole career.
The 1st Sonata is a bold work,
with a vigorous opening movement, full of a young man’s passion
and fire, a slow movement of some restraint, a brief semi-playful
scherzo and a finale of some melodic interest. Here is no enfant
terrible, but a young composer flexing his compositional
muscles and revelling in the combination of violin and piano.
The other two Sonatas are from the latter part of Scott’s life
and are more relaxed and approachable. Perhaps they aren’t quite
as tightly constructed as the 1st
Sonata, even though both have three movements as opposed
to the earlier work’s four, but they do seem to be more fairly
laid out for the two instruments. The melodic writing is more
to the fore here and thus the works are easier to follow.
This is a valuable addition to the growing number of recordings
of Scott’s music. Howick is a strong player, always in tune
with the music she is playing and giving full bloodied and romantic
interpretations. Sophia Rahman is a splendid pianist and is
a true duo partner in these works. The recording is good but
a trifle boxy, with no feel, whatsoever, of the room in which
it was recorded. Because of this the players are pushed so far
forward as to appear to almost be sitting in your lap. This
is my only complaint concerning an otherwise very worthwhile
issue. It is a companion to the same artists’ recording of the
Scott Sonata Lirica (1937) and other Scott pieces on
see also review by John