ALBUM TITLE: Scott
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Early One MorningViolin Concerto; Festival Overture; Aubade; Three Symphonic Dances
PERFORMER: Olivier Charlier (violin); BBC Philharmonic/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10407
Though they’re 30 years old now, John Ogdon’s recordings of Cyril Scott’s piano concertos and Early One Morning stand up very well both in sound and interpretation. At the time these were the first LP recordings of Scott’s orchestral music, and they long remained so, though recently all three works have featured in Chandos’s ongoing Cyril Scott series, in some excellent performances by Howard Shelley with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Martyn Brabbins. We are, in fact, confronted with real contrasts in interpretation here, for Shelley’s view of the concertos is much more volatile, with much greater variation of tempo and characterization within movements. The differences are most striking in the First Concerto, which in Ogdon’s interpretation lasts a full ten minutes longer. Yet there’s nothing stodgy about his playing – he presents rather a more measured, epic view of the work, by turns lushly Ravelian (the slow movement here is exquisitely done) and monumental. Bernard Herrmann puts a real bloom on Scott’s impressionistic orchestration also, and this remains an advantage in the much later and rather more monochrome Second Concerto,
not to mention the drowsily beautiful Early One Morning. So different are the approaches I’m reluctant to name either as a benchmark: Scott fans
will presumably want both.
Meanwhile the latest instalment from Chandos continues to acquaint us with sadly unfamiliar delights – especially Scott’s one-movement Violin Concerto, forgotten since the 1920s. A fascinating work very much of its time, its idiom hints perhaps at Delius, but parallels with early Bartók and the Szymanowski seem more apposite; Olivier Charlier is an eloquent soloist. The unhelpfully retitled Festival Overture actually started life as a prelude to Maeterlinck’s atmospheric drama Princess Maleine and, despite a few beefy fanfares and an apparently unmotivated part for a chorus, is mainly a study in impressionistic half-lights, further proof of Scott’s orchestral mastery.
The Aubade and Symphonic Dances are available on Marco Polo, but Brabbins’s performances are far more satisfactory and had me revising my estimate of these works upward. Scott apparently worried that the Aubade was too Debussian, though Debussy, gracefully fibbing, denied it on seeing the score: bits of L’après-midi are all too patent, but Brabbins expounds the piece in a way that makes it seem much less derivative. The early Dances (the reworked second, third and fourth movements of Scott’s otherwise discarded Second Symphony) turn out to be far more effective than I had thought, too, and the long slow central one, if conventionally laid out, strikes a level of emotional depth not often encountered in this prodigiously gifted composer. Definitely recommended. Calum MacDonald