This is the keenly awaited follow-up to volume 1 of Chandos' survey of the orchestral music of Cyril Scott (1879-1970). As with Chandos' earlier disc, Scott emerges as a composer who, like many of his British contemporaries, is influenced by his more individual personalities of the time (Scriabin, Bax, Bridge, Debussy, Ravel, Sorabji) but who has an individual voice of his own. His scoring is very delicate and inventive, the harmonies lyrical. The BBC Philharmonic's playing is outstanding throughout; this disc builds on the reputation the orchestra won through it's recordings of Bax and others and confirms it as the band of choice for the complex, demanding scores of Britain's "inter-war" composers.
The First Piano Concerto, from 1914, is a substantial 30-minute piece, deftly scored and with an exceptionally demanding piano part. Like many other British piano concertos of the period (Howells, Bowen) it often sounds improvisatory, but on repeated hearings the piece's internal logic becomes apparent. It is a beautiful work, which in Lewis Foreman's words "floats from mood to mood".
The Fourth Symphony, from thirty five years later, very much sounds like the work of an older composer. The harmonic language is more adventurous, although still largely "impressionistic". It seems that the work has not been performed until this recording, perhaps because in the early 1950s this kind of freely rhapsodic music was out of fashion. The work is not as tightly structured as, say, a Rubbra or Alwyn symphony, but the sheer beauty of the orchestration makes listening to it a satisfying experience. The work has four movements and although it has no programme the echoes of the sea and nature generally are not hard to spot.
"Early One Morning", a 14-minute mini-concerto for piano and orchestra from the early 1930s is the most easily digestable music on the disc, being a set of variations on the tune of the same name. It is very much in the same vein as other piano rhapsodies such as Bax's "Morning Song" and Moeran's "Rhapsody", but with Scott's individual, impressionistic harmonic touch. The harmonies are magical, with elements of Grainger and Sorabji and in places sounding like a Richard Rodney Bennet improvisation on George Gershwin.
In sum, this is a release that should be enjoyed by anyone with a taste for post-romantic or British inter-war music. It enhances Scott's reputation as a composer of real flair whose music deserves much more than an occasional outing on disc. It also whets the appetite to hear the other music referred to in Lewis Foreman's typically thorough booklet notes - concertos for violin, cello and oboe as well as the first two symphonies. Hopefully a volume 3 is already under consideration.
I have read the other reviews with interest and will, in time reassess these pieces after these first thoughts of mine.
My first impression, from the start of the attractive piano concerto was that harmonic progressions took precedence over any kind of melodic structure. The same was true of the other works. I will need to keep listening to find the internal logic because this lack of any memorable melodic material makes this sound rather like ambient background music. Sometimes Bax would overload his harmonies similarly but there was always plenty of thematic material to get a grip of. The real difference is that Scott deliberately eschews thematic material whereas bax's material isn't very strong.
The concerto, as performed here, is a beautiful, glistening and luminous impressionistic score that despite its quicker outer movements ends with a whimper - a curse for any concerto in the concert hall: Not a problem on disc of course. Without any discernible thematic material it holds the interest, particularly the sensuous slow movement, until the finale seems to wander suspiciously into aimless note spinning.
The symphony is rather frustrating and I wonder why he wrote so much in the symphonic genre: his harmonic language and approach to thematic material was at odds wit the genre. It's four movements present gently shifting moods without any real sense of direction. The harmonies take the quasi Debussy meets Scriabin a step further without the verve or sense of danger in either. The music, to be honest, sounds rather grey. "Early One Morning" is clearly the most lightweight piece on the disc but not a bad place to start. Here you do have a familiar tune and get to watch how Scott handles it. It sounds very improvisatory, like a piece of late night smooth jazz: Not that it sounds like jazz directly. For the most part the theme is hinted at rather than played directly. It's harmonic language is similar to the Concerto and I must admit that I liked it because the tune at least gave a reference point, albeit rather obliquely, that the other two works lack.
I can't fault the performances and certainly applaud Chandos for giving us the opportunity to hear this music in excellent sound.
I will persist with the two larger works but first impressions are of Scriabin with PG rating. Scott was at least consistent in his thinking, harking back to the late romantic excesses of theosophy and transendentalism but without any sense of danger: With Scriabin you get invited to an orgy but with Scott it's just scented candles, Belgian chocolate and a bottle of fine Claret. At my time of life I think I prefer the latter.
I guess I'll get some angry comments for accept first impressions aren't always right. It's worth four stars but I, for all the sensuous colour of the concerto, would be reluctant to explore too much further a composer who seemed to plough the same furrow well beyond having anything new to say. In short: nice in short doses. Maybe a couple more discs in the series and that'll be enough.