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C. Scott: Symphony No 3, Piano Concerto, Etc/Brabbins, Et Al

Release Date: 05/25/2004 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10211   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Cyril Scott
Performer:  Howard Shelley
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic OrchestraHuddersfield Choral Society
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 20 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The long-lived Englishman Cyril Scott (1879–1970) is one of those composers (like Percy Grainger) whose reputation got a historical raw deal due to the difficulty of defining and evaluating his place within the relatively irrelevant parameters established by his contemporaries. His copious catalog ranges from extremely popular though misleadingly simplistic miniatures like the perennial Lotus Land to large-scale efforts like several operas, three symphonies and other orchestral pieces, half-a-dozen concertos, and a distinguished body of chamber music.

Once considered a musical progressive back around the First World War, by the 1920s Scott was becoming marginalized by the advent of Stravinskian neo-Classicism and
Read more Schoenberg’s 12-tone atonality. Just after the turn of the century, as a member of the so-called “Frankfurt School” (which included Grainger as well as several other figures such as Norman O’Neill, Balfour Gardiner, and Roger Quilter who are barely remembered today), Scott was even celebrated on the Continent by people like Debussy. Though no English folklorist and though he studied in Germany, he created a lush and lustrous post-impressionist idiom that reveals more influences emanating from the Russo-Gallic school. Now that the draconian historicist approach to recent musical history has been thankfully scuttled, a wider acquaintance with Scott’s rich output is to be encouraged by welcoming this lovely and generous new Chandos release.

As annotator Lew Foreman eloquently states, Scott’s 1937 Third Symphony, composed for but never performed by Beecham, shows Scott at the height of his creative powers. Even though each of the 35-minute work’s four movements is inspired by one of the Greek muses of the arts, an unalerted listener could still revel in the music’s color and drama as a set of four sumptuous and vivid tonal tapestries. The score displays Scott’s instinctive eclecticism, extending from Rachmaninoff through Scriabin and Bax to the French impressionists, with more than a touch of “Pétroushka” modality, expertly worked up into a sonic brew fraught with mystery, majesty, and the purest magic—everything this kind of aural tone-painting can aspire to. The flow of ideas has a natural progression and amplification even though traditional developmental forms are seldom adhered to, and the whole is mounted in a splendiferous orchestration that never lapses into the fulsome or congested. The use of choral vocalizing in the finale is easily the equal of Debussy’s “Sirènes.” Ultimately, however, this is music of dazzling surface if little depth or emotional substance.

Subtitled “Poem of the Sea” and dedicated to Albert Coates, Neptune is also a product of the 1930s and constitutes a revised version of the symphonic poem Disaster at Sea, which was suggested by the sinking of the Titanic. Utilizing the same massive and magniloquent idiom as the symphony, this 24-minute score is hampered somewhat by its programmatic, almost cinematic, ground plan. To a large extent, it comes across as very episodic with lots of scene-setting repetition and scale-wise treadmilling and an organ highlighting the climaxes. Nonetheless, there are some striking moments, especially a lengthy Allegro agitato storm passage; but on the whole it is nowhere as satisfying as the symphony, and one can understand why the response to its premiere was so negative, thus further accentuating Scott’s alienation from the musical mainstream.

The Second Piano Concerto of 1958 is a representative example of Scott’s later phase, when his idiom turned inward with an intensification of his chromatic tendencies. This is a curious piece—introspective, but sometimes meandering and indeterminate, with an almost broodingly meditative aura and without the usual opposition between soloist and orchestra. But Scott’s writing for his own instrument is quite effective pianistically, while the orchestra maintains a solidly supportive but secondary role. Howard Shelley’s affinity for this music is perhaps a bit more detached than that of John Ogden on the old analog Lyrita recording with Bernard Herrmann (such an appropriate choice) at the helm.

Martyn Brabbins lives up to his well-earned reputation for bravely tackling unfamiliar material by providing vibrant and well-prepared advocacy of music that just has to be heard in order to round out our knowledge of the 20th-century English repertoire, thus filling a large gap in the discographical record.

A major must for the musical Anglophile.

Paul A. Snook, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Neptune by Cyril Scott
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; England 
Symphony no 3 "The Muses" by Cyril Scott
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Huddersfield Choral Society,  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; England 
Concerto for Piano no 2 by Cyril Scott
Performer:  Howard Shelley (Piano)
Conductor:  Martyn Brabbins
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1958; England 

Sound Samples

Symphony No. 3, "The Muses": I. Melpomene (Muse of Epic Poetry and Tragedy): Andante sostenuto - Molto maestoso -
Symphony No. 3, "The Muses": II. Thalia (Muse of Comedy and Merry Verse): Allegro con spirito
Symphony No. 3, "The Muses": III. Erato (Muse of Love and Poetry): Molto tranquillo -
Symphony No. 3, "The Muses": IV. Terpsichore (Muse of Dance and Song): Molto moderato e ritmico
Piano Concerto No. 2: I. Con moto - Meno mosso - Vigoroso -
Piano Concerto No. 2: II. Tranquillo pastoral - Adagio - Tempo I -
Piano Concerto No. 2: III. Energico - Grazioso - Moderato - Tempo I
Neptune: Andante - Molto maestoso -
Neptune: Con moto - Largo -
Neptune: Tempo di valse - Molto cantbile - Wistfully -
Neptune: Allegro agitato -
Neptune: Adagio molto - Tristamente

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