Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Song of London, Op. 52, No. 1 (R.M. Watson) (1906) [1:42]
Blackbird’s Song, Op. 52, No. 3 (R.M. Watson) (1906) [2:57]
Sundown (D. Grenside) (1919) [3:19]
To-Morrow (Chr. Rossetti) (1927) [2:03]
Water-Lilies (P.J. O’Reilly) (1920) [1:53]
Time O’Day (O. Macnaghten) (1919) [1:29]
Ballad of Fair Helen of Kirkconnel, Op. 8 (1925) [3:58]
Three Songs from the Chinese: Picnic, Op. 46, No. 2 (H.A. Giles) (1906) [2:22]:
An Eastern Lament, Op. 62, No. 3 (H.A. Giles) (1909) [2:08]: A Song of Wine, Op. 46, No. 3 (H.A. Giles) (1907) [2:34]
Prelude, Op. 57, No.1 (R.M. Watson) (1908) [1:43]
Have Ye Seen Him Pass By? (G. Whitworth) (1921) [2:47]
The Huckster (E. Thomas) (1921) [1:45]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Five Mystical Songs (G. Herbert) (1911); Easter [4:32]: Love bade me welcome [5:10]
Songs of Travel (R.L Stevenson) (1904) [24:30]
Robbert Muuse (baritone)
Micha van Weers (piano)
rec. July and September 2011, FWL Studios, Leipzig
Texts included
Whilst we have had a good number of discs devoted to Cyril Scott’s music in the last ten years, there’s been very little attention paid to his vocal music. Each of the thirteen songs performed by the Dutch duo of Robbert Muuse and Micha van Weers is making its CD premiere. In a total output of around 150 songs, the number on silver disc is exceptionally few. Interestingly, and perhaps rightly, the duo has avoided the one song that seldom lacked for singers, at least in the first half of the century, the Lullaby Op.57 No.2 which was recorded by artists such as Marian Anderson and Kirsten Flagstad and Claire Dux. It was also sung by Olga Haley and by one of Scott’s favourite musicians, the Australian soprano Gertrude Johnson. I wish someone would transfer the precious few recordings Scott and Johnson recorded on Columbia 78s. For instance they also recorded a song that does appear in this CD, namely Blackbird’s Song, which may have encouraged Elsie Suddaby to record her own version for HMV. These singers offer a stylistic searchlight on the performance of Scott’s songs in his lifetime and in Johnson’s case, with his coaching and collaboration.
In any case, let’s get back to the present with this very welcome disc. The selection has been astutely judged, though they’ve decided not to devote a whole disc to Scott but to include songs by Vaughan Williams. In the case of the Songs of Travel, whilst I appreciate and respect the artists’ decision, I feel it’s something of a mistake. More of that later.
Scott was a most able and brilliant pianist and this is reflected in some of the writing. His songs range from ballads to more aromatic and impressionistic settings. Song of London is a paean of praise to the capital city. The once relatively well-knownBlackbird’s Song has a dapple in the piano to keep interest very much alive, though the vocal line is rather more conventional than the pianistic one. Colour often comes via the subtle piano shading in this and other songs. Sundown is more reflective of his individualistic-contemporary style with hints of the kind of thing that Gurney was to mine in some of his darker hued settings. Water-Lilies is an axiomatic subject for an impressionistic setting though here Scott vests it with more of a ballad feel. Maybe Vaughan Williams shadows Time O’Day though the often grisly Ballad of Fair Helen of Kirkconnel brings out some drifting piano harmonies superficially at odds with the ballad text. A fine conjunction!
The Songs from the Chinese settings are some of Scott’s best. I recall reading the critic Eaglefield Hull, in a book on Scott, calling Picnic a fine example of ‘Chopsticks’ piano writing. It is certainly outstandingly evocative, and a fine piece of Chinoiserie. Have Ye Seen Him Pass By? is a very theatrical and a highly effective setting of its type.
This well chosen selection reveals Scott’s aesthetic positions in the years 1906-27. Fortunately Muuse and van Weers are highly personable and convincing interpreters; their ensemble is fine, and they characterise adeptly. Muuse has a warm voice, and sings with clarity. He’s especially effective as a linguist.
They also essay two of the Five Mystical Songs and the Songs of Travel by Vaughan Williams. There are a few points of Francophile compositional comparison between the two composers - Debussy in Scott’s case, Ravel in VW’s - so it makes some sense, even if confirmed Scott admirers might have wished for a whole disc of his songs, given their paucity on disc. The performances are certainly respectable but come up against an awful lot of competition. They’re much blunter than the more idiomatic pairing of Maltman and Vignoles, whose Hyperion recording of the Songs of Travel is very much superior in flexibility and verbal nuance. A case in point: The Roadside Fire is over-metrical, lacks lightness, and colour. But this tends to apply throughout, and I don’t think the Dutch pair quite gets the idiom. So, yes, I wish the coupling had been different.
The Scott songs however offer a valuable slice of repertory.
Jonathan Woolf
The Scott songs offer a valuable slice of repertory.