Scott: Violin And Piano Music (Violin Sonatas Nos. 1/ 3/ Sonata Melodica) CD
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Works for violin and piano are an important part of Cyril Scott's chamber music. This disc presents three sonatas which span his output. The capricious and ruminative First Violin Sonata ranks among the most convincing and successful of his earlier large-scale compositions. Sonata Melodica is a more relaxed yet equally quixotic work, while the Third Violin Sonata is one of the most inventive from his later years.
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Scott's First Violin Sonata of 1908 used always to be mentioned together with the First Piano Sonata of 1909 as marking his maturation as a composer. Highly distinctive are the melismatic melodic lines, with motifs that expand and contract freely, generating Scott's then revolutionary irregular barring. The harmony is equally air-borne, with its constant enharmonic modulations and lack of resolution except at the end of movements. The drawback is that the harmony lacks both tension and a sense of direction; the style fits short pieces (such as the Poems for piano) better than longer ones. But what saves the present work is its youthful verve and the brilliance of the writing for the instruments.
The Sonata Melodica of 1950 is no less of a milestone, in that it was in this piece that Scott created his late style, with which he proceeded to write a whole series of chamber works and the Third Piano Sonata; it is interesting to compare the exactly contemporary Second String Quartet, one of Scott's best works but not in his final manner. Distinctive of the latter are constant changes in motif and mood, and a quite new complexity of harmony, creating moods varying from a harsh insistency to half-regretful reminiscence or wayward fantasy. Some will find the result shapeless; to my ears, however, it catches more perfectly than any other music I know the moment to moment shifts characteristic of human consciousness. The result may not be as immediately effective as the First Sonata or Sonata Lirica, but well repays repeated listening. The Third Sonata of 1955 is similar in style, but leaner in texture and more austere in feeling. It is therefore less winning than the Sonata Melodica, and it is a mistake to listen to it immediately afterwards; but if you listen to it separately, you will find it no less engrossing, and equally creative of its own musical world.
In fine, because of the quality of work and performance and Scott's special feeling for the violin, this is arguably the most recommendable of all the CDs of his music, though the Chandos recording of the First Piano Concerto and Fourth Symphony will remain for many the favourite.
A final note on the number and numbering of Scott's violin sonatas. Current lists include four numbered sonatas (1908, 1950, 1955, 1956) plus the Sonata Lirica (1937) and the Sonata Melodica (1950). In fact there is no manuscript of a separate Second Sonata (as Desmond Scott has told me). My guess would be that by the fifties the Sonata Lirica had already been mislaid and that Scott counted the Sonata Melodica as his number two. The Third Sonata was not, by the way, published in 1955, as stated in the Naxos leaflet, but only in 2008, and the present recording may well be its first performance.
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To whom would this music appeal? The notes to this issue mention Debussy and Scriabin as influences, and those names indeed popped into my head frequently when listening. Syzmanowski also comes to mind. Scott does not have the melodic gift of any of those, but he effectively creates an atmoshere of what one might call "mystic impressionism" with an Eastern tinge. (And Scott was certainly drawn to Eastern mysticism, as he was to homeopathy and osteopathy, as mentioned in the notes.) Even though the works on this CD come from early and late in Scott's career, I hear a close resemblance in harmonic profile.
Sometimes I listen to music with no distractions, but often I listen while I read a book, and sometimes on Sunday afternoons, I may lounge on the couch, half snoozing and half watching the birds at the feeder in the yard while a CD plays in the background. At times like that, I like listening to something that does not insist upon my undivided attention but instead insinuates itelf into my consciousness, the sort of music I can lose myself into if I want to, or just let wash over me. This CD will fit well into the small pile of CDs that I keep aside for that purpose: consistent in mood, thoughtfully constructed, and well-played. These pieces are not, to my mind, masterpieces, but otherwise meet my criteria for a Sunday afternoon, and there is never enough of that.
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