Scott: Complete Piano Music, Vol. 1: Suites & Miniatures

LABELS: Dutton/ Dutton/ Dutton/ Genuin
WORKS: Complete Piano Music, Vol. 1: Suites & Miniatures
PERFORMER: Leslie De’Ath, Cyril Scott (piano) – Complete Piano Music, Vol. 1Leslie De’Ath (piano) – Vol. 2Leslie De’Ath, Anya Alexeyev (piano) – Vol. 3Michael Schäfer (piano) – Complete Piano Sonatas
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7150/ CDLX 7155/ CDLX 7166/ GEN 85049
Our patchy current state of


knowledge of Cyril Scott is mirrored

in the two discs here that proclaim

themselves to be his ‘Complete

Piano Sonatas’. Michael Schäfer’s

CD contains three such works;

Volume Two of Leslie De’Ath’s

survey of Scott’s piano music has

four. The addition is the ‘pre-First’

D major Sonata of 1901, which

Scott withdrew and Percy Grainger

reissued in 1909 as Handelian

Rhapsody, after an editing process

that discarded half of it (De’Ath

plays that version, little though it has

to do with Handel, in Volume 1).

These six CDs contain 97 different

pieces or movements, not half Scott’s

total piano output. De’Ath knows an

impressive amount about Scott, as his erudite and informative liner notes

attest, and he clearly loves the music

to distraction. But in the sonatas,

where direct comparison is possible, I

have to admit to preferring Schäfer’s

more focused approach.

The music ranges from the

frankly trivial or salony (rather a

lot of De’Ath’s Volume 1) to the

imposing (the Sonatas, the huge

fugue that concludes the Deuxième

Suite) and powerfully evocative

(eg the dreamlike Sphinx, offered by

both pianists). But the idiom, with

its hothouse blend of Scriabinesque

chromaticism with Debussyian

impressionism, ‘Australian’

(as Grainger insisted) metrical

freedoms, and ‘Frankfurt Gang’

added-note chord-sequences striding

up and down the hill, rank on rank,

isn’t easy to digest in bulk. Scott

chastened his language considerably,

later, but there’s not much late

work here (Schäfer plays a delicious

Victorian Waltz he wrote aged 83).

De’Ath, whose instincts are to

privilege each chord, doesn’t make

digestion easier, and it’s possible to

wonder if his tempos aren’t generally

too laboured. Schäfer has a cleaner

sound and is much more dynamic

and forward-thrusting, making his

performance of the compact and

purposeful Second Sonata maybe

the most thrilling thing on all these

discs. That work (championed

by Gieseking, no less) dates from

the mid-1930s, evidently one of

Scott’s strongest periods: so does

the excellent two-piano Theme

and Variations. Partnered here by

Anya Aexeyev on disc 1 of Volume

3, De’Ath seems sharper in attack,

and some of the best playing (and

best work) is four-handed, including

some delightful and unexpected

Bach arrangements.

But the best pianism of all is

the composer’s, represented by

the valuable crop of ‘historical

recordings’ offered in Volume 1.

As a player Scott is almost De’Ath’s

opposite: quick, light of touch,

indifferent as only a composer can

be to the seductions of momentary

sensation, but deft and incisive in

characterisation. His Rainbow Trout

easily trumps Schäfer’s, and I’ve

never heard Danse nègre taken at

such headlong pace. This is reason

enough to buy Dutton’s Volume 1;

and you don’t have to be an English

music fanatic to decide you probably

need the other volumes, and Schäfer

too, if only to pick and choose the


plums at leisure. Calum MacDonald