SCOTT Piano Trios Nos.1 & 2; Clarinet Quintet; Cornish Boat Song; Trio
Chandos CHAN 10575
Cyril Scott (1879-1970) is another of those all-but-forgotten English composers who established a considerable reputation in his youth at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. He was then considered a modernist, all but avant-garde, but in time found his music submerged by Schoenberg and atonalism. Coming from a wealthy Cheshire family, he left to study in Frankfurt alongside Roger Quilter, Balfour Gardiner and even Percy Grainger. Thomas Beecham and Henry Wood were among his admirers. He wrote a great deal of ambitious music, chamber and orchestral, and composed arrestingly for the piano; the public chose a lush piano piece, Lotus Land to remember him by while the rest of his output lapsed into obscurity, although a certain cult following remained.
Chandos is now championing a revival of his output and may well give it another lease of life. The large-scale First Piano Trio of 1920 shows him as a true original, its first movement languorous, heady and flowing. The second movement’s Sostenuto misteriso soon becomes an exotic scherzo, ending very positively, while the Andante sostenuto is a haunting, at times almost sepulchral, slow movement. It is followed by a lively folk-like finale with swiftly changing time signatures and ending with tolling bells. An intriguing work, well worth hearing.
The single-movement Second Piano Trio is a late work (1951) and has something of the intangible atmosphere and flowing lyrical lines of the First, although it is much shorter, more concentrated, and with a climactic, maestoso closing section. One of the most striking features of Scott’s writing is the restlessness of the tempi, and this is very striking in the clarinet Trio, (which has a contrastingly gentle central Intermezzo), and even more so in the single-movement Clarinet Quintet which although essentially lyrical, brings 13 quixotic changes in as many minutes, with an ethereally brief Molto tranquillo as its centrepiece.
The charming Cornish Boat Song is almost certainly not true folk music, but it has a neat tune and is winningly delicate in feeling. The performers here are first class, Robert Plane a richly fluent clarinettist, and the string group most sensitively blended and strongly led by the excellent pianist, Benjamin Frith; all are spontaneously responsive to the composer’s complexities of melodic line and rhythm. The Chandos recording is very real and vivid. A disc well worth exploring for those who prefer a composer who goes his own way harmonically and has an original and certainly English cast of mind.