Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano)
Adrian Farmer (piano)
rec. 2017, Concert Hall of Nimbus Foundation Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
LYRITA SRCD.365 [64:41]
Cyril Scott’s songs are a decidedly under-explored area of Scott’s repertoire. A single disc such as this, which presents 24 songs, is therefore likely to interest the acquisitive and inquisitive collector of the British muse, notwithstanding the Dowsonian languor in which Scott so frequently likes to bathe. His feelings for poets of the Rhymers’ Club frequently focus on Ernest Dowson, a Delius favourite, but naturally embrace the sad-songs of Christina Rossetti, as well as the less pallor-drenched settings of her brother, Dante Gabriel. He also set his own verses. He shied away from Yeats, one notices, who was also a member of the Rhymers’ Club, but liked RM (Rosamund Marriott) Watson, whose autumnal melancholy fits Scott’s dried-leaves-underfoot temperament well. Those moments when Scott breaks free are rare but as a result welcome. It was Joseph Holbrooke, in his book ‘Contemporary British Composers’, who termed Scott ‘one of our well-known facile song-writers, of a certain ‘pattern’ style.’ Holbrooke was famously choleric but even so one feels this a double-edged compliment – if indeed it’s any kind of compliment at all.
It would be unfair to suggest that Scott’s piano writing more exciting, imaginative and memorable than his vocal line but it is often true that the most striking moments here largely emerge from Scott’s own instrument. The droll pianism of Daffodils is a case in point, the vocal line irradiated, it’s true, by spring-like freshness but otherwise unremarkable. In a setting of his own poem, Spring Song, he embeds the song of the cuckoo in a rather arabesque-like way, where splashes of his more advanced harmonies can be felt. That’s also true of Willows where the piano colour is more titillating than the melodic curve of the lyric.
Scott can make a little go a long way. He gets a lot of mileage out of the oscillating chords of The Watchman but even better is the dreamy impressionism of Water-Lillies, to Scott’s own words, a kind of Monet in music. Evoking the appropriate accompaniment, Autumn’s Lute is certainly not the only setting rather obviously to draw the ear to the textual crux of a poem but at least he largely abandons lute imitations as the song progresses. It’s a shame that his setting of Dowson’s Sorrow, a typically sad-sack poem, is so oriented to the salon antimacassar but at least he treats the same poet’s most famous lines, in Meditation, in a straight-down-the-middle kind of way. Whether this is good enough is a matter for the listener to decide.
When it comes to folkloric elements Scotch Lullabye is interrupted by scrunchy dissonant piano chords and enlivened by strenuous outburst. For an example of his roustabout, music hall side turn to Don’t Come In Sir, Please! and for salon effusions operating at the lowest possible wattage listen to In a Fairy Boat and Lovely Kind and Kindly Loving.
Charlotte de Rothschild is an able soprano, attentive to the lyrics and managing to deal justly with the various Scotts to be heard here – from the folklorist manqué to the full-on advanced harmonist via some whimsical moments. Pushed high and her voice can turn pinched and squally but that doesn’t happen very often. Adrian Farmer is a fine pianist and at a time when Leslie De’Ath has largely cornered the market elsewhere for Scott’s solo piano music, it’s good to have other exponents before the public. There are full texts and an illuminating booklet note by Valerie Langfield.
Pierrot and the Moon Maiden (1912) [3:01]
Daffodils, Op. 68, No. 1 (1909) [1:57]
Spring Song (1913) [2:33]
Don't Come in Sir, Please! Op. 43, No. 2 (1905) [2:15]
Willows, Op. 24, No. 2 (1903) [2:21]
In a Fairy Boat, Op. 61, No. 2 (1908) [2:05]
Lovely Kind and Kindly Lovely, Op. 55, No. 1 (1907) [2:23]
Scotch Lullabye, Op. 57, No. 3 (1908) [3:37]
The Watchman (1920) [3:15]
Water-lilies (1920) [2:06]
Voices of Vision, Op. 24, No. 1 (1903) [4:42]
Sundown (1919) [2:55]
Autumn's Lute (1914) [2:05]
A Valedictition, Op. 36, No. 1 (1904) [2:21]
Lullaby, Op. 57, No. 2 (1908) [2:25]
The Unforeseen, Op. 74, No. 3 (1911) [2:53]
A Lost Love, Op. 62, No. 1 (1908) [1:46]
Night Song (1915) [2:43]
Sorrow, Op. 36, No. 2 (1904) [2:14]
Love's Aftermath (1911) [3:02]
Looking Back (1917) [2:35]
Meditation (1915) [2:55]
An Old Song Ended (1911) [2:33]
The Valley of Silence, Op. 72, No. 4 (1911) [3:58]