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Songs Of Quest & Inspiration - Cyril Scott, Vaughan Williams

Muuse / Weers
Release Date: 02/14/2012 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72527  
Composer:  Cyril ScottRalph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Robert MuuseMicha Van Weers
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Scott songs offer a valuable slice of repertory.

Whilst we have had a good number of discs devoted to Cyril Scott’s music in the last ten years, there’s been very little attention paid to his vocal music. Each of the thirteen songs performed by the Dutch duo of Robbert Muuse and Micha van Weers is making its CD premiere. In a total output of around 150 songs, the number on silver disc is exceptionally few. Interestingly, and perhaps rightly, the duo has avoided the one song that seldom lacked for singers, at least in the first half of the century, the Lullaby Op.57 No.2 which was recorded by artists such as Marian Anderson and Kirsten Flagstad and Claire Dux. It was also sung by Olga Haley and by one of
Read more Scott’s favourite musicians, the Australian soprano Gertrude Johnson. I wish someone would transfer the precious few recordings Scott and Johnson recorded on Columbia 78s. For instance they also recorded a song that does appear in this CD, namely Blackbird’s Song, which may have encouraged Elsie Suddaby to record her own version for HMV. These singers offer a stylistic searchlight on the performance of Scott’s songs in his lifetime and in Johnson’s case, with his coaching and collaboration.
 
In any case, let’s get back to the present with this very welcome disc. The selection has been astutely judged, though they’ve decided not to devote a whole disc to Scott but to include songs by Vaughan Williams. In the case of the Songs of Travel, whilst I appreciate and respect the artists’ decision, I feel it’s something of a mistake. More of that later.
 
Scott was a most able and brilliant pianist and this is reflected in some of the writing. His songs range from ballads to more aromatic and impressionistic settings. Song of London is a paean of praise to the capital city. The once relatively well-known Blackbird’s Song has a dapple in the piano to keep interest very much alive, though the vocal line is rather more conventional than the pianistic one. Colour often comes via the subtle piano shading in this and other songs. Sundown is more reflective of his individualistic-contemporary style with hints of the kind of thing that Gurney was to mine in some of his darker hued settings. Water-Lilies is an axiomatic subject for an impressionistic setting though here Scott vests it with more of a ballad feel. Maybe Vaughan Williams shadows Time O’Day though the often grisly Ballad of Fair Helen of Kirkconnel brings out some drifting piano harmonies superficially at odds with the ballad text. A fine conjunction!
 
The Songs from the Chinese settings are some of Scott’s best. I recall reading the critic Eaglefield Hull, in a book on Scott, calling Picnic a fine example of ‘Chopsticks’ piano writing. It is certainly outstandingly evocative, and a fine piece of Chinoiserie. Have Ye Seen Him Pass By? is a very theatrical and a highly effective setting of its type.
 
This well chosen selection reveals Scott’s aesthetic positions in the years 1906-27. Fortunately Muuse and van Weers are highly personable and convincing interpreters; their ensemble is fine, and they characterise adeptly. Muuse has a warm voice, and sings with clarity. He’s especially effective as a linguist.
 
They also essay two of the Five Mystical Songs and the Songs of Travel by Vaughan Williams. There are a few points of Francophile compositional comparison between the two composers - Debussy in Scott’s case, Ravel in VW’s - so it makes some sense, even if confirmed Scott admirers might have wished for a whole disc of his songs, given their paucity on disc. The performances are certainly respectable but come up against an awful lot of competition. They’re much blunter than the more idiomatic pairing of Maltman and Vignoles, whose Hyperion recording of the Songs of Travel is very much superior in flexibility and verbal nuance. A case in point: The Roadside Fire is over-metrical, lacks lightness, and colour. But this tends to apply throughout, and I don’t think the Dutch pair quite gets the idiom. So, yes, I wish the coupling had been different.
 
The Scott songs however offer a valuable slice of repertory.
 
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Song of London by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
2. Blackbird’s Song by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
3. Sundown by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
4. To-Morrow by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
5. Water-Lilies by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
6. Time O’Day by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
7. Ballad of Fair Helen of Kirkconnel by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
8. Picnic by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
9. An Eastern Lament by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
10. A Song of Wine by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
11. Prelude by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
12. Have Ye Seen Him Pass By? by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
13. The Huckster by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
14. Mystical Songs (5) by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911; England 
15. Songs of travel by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Performer:  Robert Muuse (Bass Baritone), Micha Van Weers (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1901-1904; England 

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