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Derek B. SCOTT (b. 1950)
Pagan Overture, Op 2 (1973) [11:32]
Airs and Dances: Concerto for Highland Bagpipe and Orchestra, Op 28 (1998) [7:53]
Brannigan’s Journey, Op 30 (2003) [5:35]
Dafydd y Garreg Wen: Fantasia for Orchestra, Op 25 (1996) [7:07]
Suite Grotesque, Op 32 (2006/2020) [15:42]
Chacony, Op 24 (1995, rev. 2019) [6:00]
Fugal Overture, Op 6 (1975) [4:20]
Kirkliston Waltz, Op 31 (2003) [4:51]
Clear the Decks!: Boogie Woogie for Orchestra, Op 21 (1995) [4:33]
John Dew (bagpipes) Liepāja SO/Paul Mann
rec. November 2020, Great Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia

British composer Derek B Scott was born in Birmingham in 1950 and comes from a musical family; a relation was George Hope Johnstone, a friend of Elgar. Scott studied with Anthony Hedges and became musical director of a contemporary chamber orchestra in the 70s. His musical enthusiasms though are wide; operetta, rock, dance bands, jazz (in 1985 he sang professionally in the jazz opera Prez, which was based on the life of Lester Young). He has written several academic books and has a substantial reputation as a musical historian and in 1996 was appointed Professor of Music at the University of Salford.

He has composed for nearly fifty years and now, having reached the age of 70, it seems an apposite time to look back over some of his works for orchestra. As my skeletal biography should make clear, Scott is unstuffy but inquisitive, unbeholden to any dogmas and open to a wide range of influences.

Composed when he was a stripling of 23, the Pagan Overture title might make one think of, say, Bantock, but its changeable moods – one moment elegant and refined, the next lyric, then motored by propulsive percussion – are cast in the context of a most attractive noble theme. It takes class to come up with a theme this good. Airs and Dances: Concerto for Highland Bagpipe and Orchestra was composed a full quarter of a century later and is a kind of potpourri, predicated along nineteenth century lines, I suppose, rather than a Concerto as such; it lasts only eight minutes in any case. The writing here is delightfully generous, the tunes infectious and the use of the percussion most attractive, to say nothing of the whistle-conscious writing for the bagpipes.

A hymnal quality inaugurates Brannigan’s Journey – which is a tone poem based on Scott’s music for the film of the same name - which also includes a role for the bright toned solo trumpet, which itself ushers in a gorgeous string-rich melody that reminds me of Dives and Lazarus. Rather different is his arrangement, from a brass band original, of Dafydd y Garreg Wen, a fantasia for orchestra that manages to retain its vocalised quality in this orchestral version. There are clever and clear instrumental conjunctions with echoes of the brass original. The five-movement Suite Grotesque occupied Scott on and off between 2006 and 2020. The opening movement has gnomish elements with a droll March interrupted by what Scott calls ‘monsters of the id’ that harbour a decidedly satiric-balletic profile. The ensuing Ballad is a touch sour. The subject of the ingenious third movement Double Fugue is the song Cushie Butterfield. Perhaps it’s just my mind making leaps, but this was a favourite song of that much-loved singer Owen Brannigan, which leads one back to Brannigan’s Journey. The composer, who writes the booklet notes, mentions that the Variations movement is a set of seven ‘enigma variations’ of a well-known tune but doesn’t tell us the tune. I’m banking on a certain National Anthem, but you’ll have to listen to it to see if you agree. The variety of pieces in this lively work shows Scott’s versatility, eclecticism and openness.

He admits that the composition of the Chacony (1995 but revised in 2019) caused him trouble. It exemplifies his tonal but never simplistic approach, whilst the Fugal Overture encodes more of his wit. Versed as he is in British light music – his erstwhile teacher Hedges, after all, was a master of the genre – he gets a slightly eerie quality into the general geniality of Kirkliston Waltz. The final piece is Clear the Decks! subtitled Boogie Woogie for Orchestra. There are no saxophones or drums, and so you shouldn’t expect Bernsteinian symphonic riffs nor indeed a souped-up version of a Pete Johnson piano solo. Written for a competition it’s good and clever fun.

Piper John Dew, young but experienced, is a composer himself and plays his concerto with imaginative flair. The Liepāja Symphony seem to be able to turn its hand to pretty much all aspects of the repertoire without sounding in any way non-committal or as if it’s sight-reading its way through. Much of the credit for that goes to Paul Mann who is a Toccata regular by now.

None of the works in this disc is on the large-scale side but everything is sharply, warmly, wittily and communicatively generous in its impact.

Jonathan Woolf

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