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Cyril SCOTT (1879-1970)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C (1913-14) [39:32]
Early One Morning - Poem for Piano and Orchestra (1931, rev.1962) [14:47]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1958) [25:12]
John Ogdon (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Herrmann
rec. 1970s. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.251 [79:44]

Readers will note that it’s some time since this disc was first reviewed on MusicWeb. I’ve had my copy for quite a while now and, to be honest, the reason that my review is so long delayed is because I’ve been uncertain what I should say about this CD.
Let me say at once that this reticence is no reflection on the quality of the performances. The first appearance on CD of these readings is a timely reminder of the tremendous technique – and willingness to explore unfamiliar repertoire – of John Ogdon who, had he lived, would have been seventy this year. The disc also reminds us that Bernard Herrmann, best known for his great film scores, was no mean conductor. He obtains uniformly excellent playing from the LPO.
No, I’m afraid my problem with this disc lies in the music itself. I’ve kept putting it aside and then returning to it but I keep coming to the same verdict. It’s inventively scored – Scott was clearly a resourceful orchestrator – but it’s just not memorable. Not only do I find that the music fails to lodge in the memory after I’ve heard it, I find it unmemorable even while listening to it. So, for example, writing of the third movement of the First Concerto, Christopher Palmer says that there’s an episode midway through where violin and flute recall material from the slow movement. Well, I’m sure this is so and I think I’ve identified the passage to which he refers but I can’t be sure even now – and yet it’s only minutes ago that the second movement played! For me, Scott’s melodic material simply fails to make an impression.
I’m sure that the fault is mine for Roger Wimbush, who contributes the note on the Second Concerto and Early One Morning cites Debussy, Richard Strauss, Elgar and Bernard Shaw as admirers of Scott. So far better judges that I have found much more than I have in the music but I can only report what I hear.
The First Concerto is by some distance the most substantial work here, running to nearly forty minutes. The first movement alone takes just short of eighteen. Scott described the concerto as “Not a deep work but an enlivening one.” It’s scored for a relatively small orchestra, eschewing brass instruments completely, but actually it sounds to be written for a larger band than is the case. Certainly the scoring is resourceful. I found the first movement interesting in terms of the sonorities and pleasant harmonies. It’s a bright, colourful movement but surely it’s too long for the material? I just wonder if, with all his undoubted facility, the music came too easily to Scott?
Christopher Palmer describes the slow movement as “Delian, mystical, crepuscular.” It’s rich in twilight atmosphere and very skilfully scored. I found it most enjoyable to listen to but wondered more than once if the music was actually going anywhere. The third movement is mainly energetic and busy. The music possesses what Christopher Palmer persuasively describes as “very Grainger-like energy and exuberance.” The substantial cadenza [8:12 – 10:44] is a gift to a pianist of Ogdon’s prowess.
It’s uncertain when the Second Concerto was written but probably some four decades separate it from its predecessor. This recording may well have been its first performance. The scoring is more full, with brass added to the mix, and the music is more serious in tone. The other big change is that Scott’s musical language had become, at least on the evidence of this piece, more astringent. For instance, in the ruminative episode for strings (around 6:00 to 7:00 in the first movement) the intervals in the melody are much more challenging than was the case in the First Concerto. Yet again, however, I find it hard to grasp the music’s profile, to get a sense of direction. Roger Wimbush uses the same word – “Delian” – in his description of the slow movement and certainly the accompaniment is rich. The finale is energetic but all too often Scott stops along the way for a short ruminative episode and the impetus is lost.
Ironically it’s the “slightest” piece on this disc that I’ve found easiest to appreciate – I’ve deliberately put that word in quotes because it’s not an insubstantial work; I’m really referring to its dimensions alongside the two concertos. Early One Morning was originally written for two pianos and orchestra (1931) but the piece heard here is the 1962 revision which employs just one piano. Once again, it’s possible that this recording represented the first performance of the piece. The tune in question is never heard in full – and, indeed, it doesn’t appear at all until 3:12 into the piece. However, the tune – or, at times, the implication of the tune – gives the work a melodic foundation that I find lacking in the other pieces. In essence, I suppose it keeps Scott on the thematic straight and narrow. One surprise is the ending, which is not only quiet but also a bit abrupt.
I’m sorry that I can’t be more enthusiastic about the music on this CD. However, that’s very much a subjective reaction and I suppose it’s possible that one day I’ll get onto Cyril Scott’s wavelength. Those who either are already on that wavelength or wish to sample his music should not be put off in the slightest by my strictures about the music for the disc itself contains fine, committed performances, splendidly recorded. The notes by Christopher Palmer (Concerto No. 1) and Roger Wimbush are very helpful and well written.
John Quinn

see also review by Rob Barnett


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