Cyril SCOTT (1879 – 1970)
Violin Sonata No.1, op.59 (1908) {28:48]
Sonata Melodica (1950) [22:17]
Violin Sonata No.3 (1955) [23:23]
Clare Howick (violin), Sophia Rahman (piano)
rec. 29-31 December 2008, Coombehurst Studio, Kingston University, Surrey. DDD
NAXOS 8.572290 [74:27]

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 Dutton CDLX7200.

Bob Briggs

see also review by John France

A very worthwhile issue.