Neptune Poem of the Sea
Piano Concerto No.2
Symphony No.3 (The Muses)
Howard Shelley (piano)
Huddersfield Choral Society
Recorded April 2003 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
Reviewed by: Michael Allen
Reviewed: June 2004
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10211
Duration: 80 minutes
As Lewis Foreman explains in his informative booklet note, Cyril Scott (1879-1970) tends to be remembered, if at all, for the achievements of his early life than what came later. That together with his bewildering extra-musical interests – for example, literature, alternative medicine and the occult, about which he wrote a number of books.
In his teens and ‘twenties, Scott had a considerable reputation as one of the most important avant-garde composers, admired by Stravinsky, Ravel and Debussy, amongst others. If any of his music is played today it tends to be the shorter piano pieces such as Water Wagtail or Lotus Land, but in recent years, like so much English music of the period, there has been an increasing amount available on CD.
Chandos continues its outstanding work on behalf of British music with this first recording of two extravagant works from the 1930s and the curious Piano Concerto No.2, which was written as late as 1958 and only given its first performance when recorded for LP by John Ogdon in the mid 1970s. The Chandos recording is its second performance!
This choice of Cyril Scott’s music is given the best possible chance to shine – superb recording, Howard Shelley dispatches the concerto with customary aplomb, and Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Philharmonic do all the right things. To my ears at least, though, there are too many hand-me-down gestures – bits of Scriabin, Debussy and Ravel, and large chunks of Delius and Bax: but without these composers’ individuality.
The sumptuous scoring of Neptune (a 1935 revision of Scott’s Titanic-related Disaster at Sea) wouldn’t seem out of place in a Cecil B. de Mille epic – huge climaxes topped with organ chords punctuate randomly the sort of endless rhapsodising that pervades so much Delius, but at least Delius had a considered range of colours at his disposal. One or two fancy effects aside, Scott’s orchestration doesn’t have anything like that imagination.
The Symphony, based on the Muses, and written for Beecham who never conducted it, requires a vast orchestra, with a vocalising chorus (thank you again Delius, although the effect is more to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloë) and sprawls over 35 minutes – it proves too long a muse despite some lovely moments, not least the slow movement, ‘Erato: Muse of Love and Poetry’.
The Concerto is rather more memorable, and is concentrated into 20 minutes. There is no confrontation as in a ‘standard’ concerto; in fact the orchestral contribution is light and unintrusive when the soloist is playing.
I have been somewhat disappointed in the music here, surprisingly, but I must also stress the excellence of the performances, recording and presentation. This is a release that is heartily recommended to those to whom Cyril Scott’s music might appeal.