Music Web Reviews
Dennis Hennig’s sleeve note contains an introductory paragraph succinct in setting out the Scott dilemma – member of the Frankfurt Group, hailed as progressive savior of British modernism in his early twenties, followed by the rapid decline of his reputation after the First World War. Hennig’s disc first appeared on Etcetera and was issued in 1992.
It is a generous and in some ways absorbingly troubling selection of works written within an eleven year period which range from salon morceaux through Pictorialism to the more obvious fires and fissures of the 1909 Sonata. Lotus Land, still the paradigmatic Scott composition, opens the recital coupled with its less well-known opus mate, Columbine. Both are examples of salon pictorial exotica spiced with a dash of Ravel. The two Pierrot Pieces were inspired by Grainger’s A Lot of Rot for cello and piano which Scott claimed had "caught something of the sad sentimental vulgarity of the music hall." Scott’s own double tribute, both to Grainger and to the variety stage, is a rather more earthbound affair. The chordal progressions of Pierrot triste strike me as melodramatically pat and wistful, in the worst sense; melodically it strikes me as a cross between Nessum Dorma and the Londonderry Air.
We reach deeper waters with the five Poems of 1912. The poems are all by Scott and this is attractively sensuous, harmonically versatile musicwith its aphoristic beauties intact. Employing chains of parallel fourths and sixths in imitation of bells tolling Scott is both Debussyian and also highly personalised in his inspiration. The bell tolling of the central piece is both authentic in sound and curiously moving, the set as a whole a marriage of technique and a sophisticated means of expression. Especially attractive as well is the central Danse Orientale from the 1910 Trois Danses tristes. It is dedicated to Maud Roosevelt, a close friend of Scott’s and whilst still, perhaps, salon in impulse has an assertive-reflective life of its own in his best "eastern" style (Scott had famously never been to any of places whose music he evoked).
The Sonata adopts Grainger’s free rhythm and also employs unequal bar lengths and is a cyclic and a substantial work ending in a distinctly unGraingerian fugal passage. It’s the first of his three piano sonatas (the others date from 1932 and 1956) and has a convulsively attractive, errant harmony. It’s often assertive, freely associative melodically and embeds distinctive folk material into its fabric, exploring moods and impressions with a sometimes aggressive eloquence. The slow section, a six minute adagio, is especially compelling but the whole work is a distinctive achievement and a fitting end to Henning’s very well played recital tracing as it does the twin poles of Scott’s creative life, from the hot house of Lotus Land to the tough formalities of the Sonata.
Cyril Scott's music is another slumbering giant. We know hardly even one per cent of his output. By 2010 we can hope to have CDs of the major works. The Alchemist was revealed as a richly impressionistic score when broadcast in highlights by the BBC during 1995 - Musica Britannica year). By reputation and report works such as the concertos for violin, cello and oboe will be well worth hearing as will the Third Symphony The Muses. The two piano concertos were recorded by John Ogdon and conducted by Bernard Herrmann on Lyrita in the 1970s. In the same time-frame I rather hope that these two works will be issued coupled on a single CD but rest assured this is speculation by me - nothing more.
Scott, for all his exotic reputation, was born and brought up in Birkenhead just across the Mersey from Liverpool. He was not that far away from New Brighton where Bantock, at the turn of the century (19th into 20th), developed a full symphony orchestra from a pier-end band and a swashbucklingly daring avant-garde season of concerts before a career move to Birmingham.
This present ABC harvest of largely charm-infused pieces have about them more than a whiff of the salon and the piano stool though none of them are exactly beginners' pieces. The recordings have been around a while. Not that they have been 'in the can', unissued since 1991 when Dennis Hennig went into the studio. On the contrary they were issued pretty promptly the same year on the full price Dutch Etcetera label. All but one piece from this disc were on that CD. Clearly Etcetera decided that 79+ minutes was beyond the technical tolerance of the day. Things have moved on and ABC have been able to add the Prairie Pieces which were taken down at the same one day session. This is their first issue.
All the famous Scott works are here along with many that are rarities. The Two Pieces Op. 47 include a piece that dogged Scott's recital life in much the same way that Rachmaninov's famous Prelude haunted its composer being constantly under pressure from audiences to play it. With the exception of the Sonata and the Five Poems the various pieces on this disc are delicate blooms and character pieces rather than being dramatic or epic. A Debussyian delicacy veering towards Messiaen and Scriabin can be heard in the Five Poems whose titles are Poppies, The Garden of Soul-Sympathy, Bells, Twilight of the Year and Paradise Birds.
If the charm quotient is high I must also make it clear that Scott treads the line so well that he avoids the twee. This is a tough act to pull off but with Hennig, Scott seems to be in trusty hands. I never once had the impression that Hennig was smiling condescendingly. The temptation might have been irresistible if this had been Ketèlbey or any one of hundreds of other light music merchants of the early 20th century. Lotusland and Water Wagtail were made famous by Scott himself and later by his protégée Esther Fisher who, it seems, broadcast the pieces several times for the BBC Third Programme.
The Sonata is big, florid and plungingly romantic though it is undermined by themes that just elude the memory. It is certainly a much more directly expressed piece than the much later Third Sonata recorded by Raphael Terroni of the British Music Society. This is not the only Scott piano recital in the catalogue. A largely complementary rather than duplicating disc was set down by one of CMOTW's longest-standing reviewers, Chris Howell, and I am sure an e-mail to me will provide enquirers with contents and ordering details.
If you are looking for more Scott you will need to move to a British Music Society analogue cassette which includes the Piano Sonata No. 3 as moodily played by Raphael Terroni (I declare my interest as a BMS member and editor of its newsletter). You can order a copy (provided there are still some left) by contacting Stephen Trowell on UK (0)1708 224795 at 7 Tudor Gardens, Upminster, ESSEX RM14 3DE in the UK - no e-mail.
A taste of the orchestral music can be had on CD from Marco Polo although the performances by the SABCSO conducted by Peter Marchbank do not have the zing that these pieces need in order fully to grip and entertain. Decently economical notes by the pianist spruced up by Ralph Lane. All in all this is an ideal way to acquire a foothold in Scott's piano music ... and at Australian Eloquence's bargain price. If you have any difficulty tracking down a copy then, in the UK, try Seaford and over the internet give www.buywell.com a spin. Do not be surprised however if Scott is revealed as a very different composer when the major concert and dramatic works are issued on disc. You might have to wait a while though!
Rob Barnett, Classical Editor
“ More enterprising fare from Dutton‚ the Piano Quintet something of a find. ... Scott handles his material with impressive fluency and genuine craft. Above all‚ an abundant poetic sensibility illuminates every bar‚ and repeated hearings have merely strengthened my admiration for a work which will surely win its neglected creator plenty of new friends. Performances are as stylish as they are dedicated. A valuable release.”
The Gramophone, April 2002
Music Web Reviews
The Piano Quartet reminded me a little of Cadman (see Naxos collection) in its Gallic grace and strong lyric urge. There are other parallels: Vierne, Max d'Ollonne and Fauré. This is music that is much stronger and more lucidly laid out than the denser melos of Bowen experienced when hearing Dutton CDLX 7115. The music also rang out a little like John Foulds' Cello Sonata (1905). It receives here a really convincing performance of great heft and dedication.
Of even stronger French sympathies the Piano Quintet offers up a rainbow sheaf of hazed and sharply etched impressionistic colours. Here the ‘indicators’ are Ravel (listen to the Allegro grazioso and 7.50 of the finale), Bonnal and Guy-Ropartz. The time-signature is in constant flux. While the quartet has a definite chiseled tune the quintet is more suggestive and subtle. It has a masterly shimmer of motifs and atmosphere and a Debussyian undulation. The adagio and the finale further identify this music as utterly remarkable; compare it with Foulds' Quartetto Intimo (on Pearl). The work has an assertively Korngoldian shimmer and misty romance.
Michael Dutton makes imaginative use of London Transport Museum posters in his liner designs as was also the case with the lamented Beulah label. Lewis Foreman contributes his, as usual, well informed and illuminating commentary. World-class playing from the London Piano Quartet (Nona Liddell, violin; Elizabeth Turnbull, viola, David Kennedy, cello; Philip Fowke, piano) and Ms Taylor makes this amongst the choicest Dutton Epoch releases. Don't miss it.
Rob Barnett, Classical Editor