Scott: Symphony No. 3 (The Muses); Piano Concerto No. 2; Neptune

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (The Muses); Piano Concerto No. 2; Neptune
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano); Huddersfield Choral Society, BBC Philharmonic/ Martyn Brabbins
After his brief pre-1914 celebrity as the ‘English Debussy’, Cyril Scott soon fell out of fashion. Relatively few of his later works were heard before his death in 1970, virtually none after it. We hardly know him apart from piano pieces like Lotus Land, and perhaps his books on occultism and alternative therapies. His Second Piano Concerto (1958) was unplayed until John Ogdon recorded it in 1976; Howard Shelley now gives the second performance. The disc also contains the world premiere of Neptune (1935), a reworking of a symphonic poem inspired by the sinking of the Titanic, itself only played once; and of the Third Symphony (1937), inspired by the Muses of Poetry, Comedy, Love and Dance, and dedicated to Thomas Beecham, who never conducted it. If not a revelation of neglected genius, here is an eloquent case for fine music, unnecessarily consigned to oblivion without the courtesy of a hearing. Scott was a native speaker of the chromatic, added-note language of Bax, Grainger and Schreker, and his instrumental skill (wind machine, organ and all) rivals theirs. In fact it’s as extraordinarily imaginative orchestration that the two Thirties works immediately impress; the later Concerto is more austere and thematically essentialised. All three pieces grow on one – Neptune is by any standards a powerful act of nature-evocation, and its turbulent seascape-mood is yet more effectively embodied in the Symphony’s first movement (the later movements seem less motivated, and the finale’s wordless chorus sounds an unnecessary addition to the fabric). These performances, in almost demonstration-class sound, are expert and committed. An important act of restitution – can we now hope for a new recording of the slightly better-known Piano Concerto No. 1? Calum MacDonald