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)
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
Songs of Travel (R.L Stevenson) (1904) [24:30]
Robbert Muuse (baritone)
Micha van Weers (piano)
rec. July and September 2011, FWL Studios, Leipzig
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72527 [64:53]
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.
The Scott songs offer a valuable slice of repertory.