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Scott symphonies TOCC0646
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Derek B. Scott (b. 1950)
Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 23 (1995, orch. 2021)
Symphony No. 2 in G minor, Op. 26 (1996-1997, orch. 2021)
The Silver Sword: Tone-Poem, Op. 39 (2021)
Liepāja Symphony Orchestra/Paul Mann
rec. 2022, Great Amber Concert Hall, Liepāja, Latvia
Orchestral Music Volume Two

I had never heard of Derek Scott: I missed Jonathan Woolf’s positive review of Volume 1 of orchestral music. There is a brief biography in the review, so let me just note that Scott was Professor of Music at Salford University from 1996, and was appointed Professor of Critical Musicology at Leeds University in 2006. He retired in 2020.

Salford University is known for its involvement with brass bands. I knew the late Frank Salter who was a senior lecturer there in a position relating to music for brass band. Derek Scott actually composed these two symphonies for brass, and some 25 years later he decided to orchestrate them.

In his extensive notes, Scott says that he was “attempting to scale down to a pattern of movements and an overall duration typical of Haydn symphonies” whilst not ready to follow the sort of Neo-Classical structures many composers adopted in the early to mid-20th century. He writes that he thought it “bound itself too closely to historical styles and norms, and often embraced too much artifice […]. Neo-Classical works certainly included a variety of changes that marked them as compositions of a later age, but, for me, too large a proportion of the material was tied to an age long past.”

He goes on to say: “I attempted to tackle this problem by leaning on various structures and processes used in 18th-century symphonies, but resisting the melodic or harmonic stylistic characteristic of that time. Taking my cue from Haydn, I wanted to include melodies of traditional and popular character, and to make use of contemporary orchestral forces in the way I treated them […]. I was largely indebted to the popular music that I had listened to and performed in the 1960s. Bands such as The Kinks and The Beatles were strong influences, and, in the classical realm, the music of Sibelius and Shostakovich.”

I could continue to quote Scott’s notes on his musical style, but that would make for a very long review, so I will just add one more quotation: “my use of syncopation relates to that found in jazz and pop, and differs from classical style.”

On to my own reactions to these symphonies. If I had not read that they were composed for brass, I would have fairly rapidly concluded that the composer was, at the very least, influenced by brass band music. This is largely because of the striking use of brass, woodwind and percussion in the scores. The strings adopt a supporting role more than usual in symphonic writing; they do gain some prominence in the slow movements. I also detect something more elusive that raises faint memories of hearing bands parading at Whitsuntide. Clearly, the virtuosity of such bands as Black Dyke Mills far exceeded the praiseworthy efforts of my local Salvation Army band, but the memory is there all the same.

Professor Scott’s use of the winds, brass and percussion is masterly, lending vibrant colour to his scores. This is quickly shown in the opening movement of the first symphony: a memorable downward theme on tubular bells rings out above the rest of the orchestra. The sound world thus created is delightful, as striking and colourful as anything I have ever heard in 20th and 21st century music. The composer’s melodic and instrumentation style is recognisable across the three works on the disc. I find the first symphony the most attractive, but this is just due to the melodies, which I think are that little bit more ear-tingling than in the other works. But memorable tunes are the strong point of all these compositions. It is so rare to find unrestrained melodic fecundity unleashed in modern classical music. I can only think to put it down to Scott’s familiarity with, and influences drawn from, jazz and popular music.

I have enjoyed this disc enormously. The recording is first-rate, often spectacular. The orchestra play exqusitely, Paul Mann conducts them inspiringly, and obviously the music provides the bedrock for the production. The booklet contains very full notes in English, biographical and musical, the latter often quite technical. The composer wrote all comments on the music.

Toccata Classics are to be congratulated for releasing such good recordings of Derek Scott’s music.

Jim Westhead

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf (August 2022)

Published: October 21, 2022

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