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CD Reviews

Music Library Reviews:Cyril Scott’s Symphony No. 1 in G

In this series, Classical 91.7's music librarian Chris Hathaway reviews new additions to our ever-growing CD library. This month, Chris reviews Cyril Scott’s Symphony No. 1 in G, as recorded by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Philharmonic.

British composer Cyril Scott’s Symphony No. 1 in G, completed in 1899 (when the composer was barely twenty), might not have survived but for the enthusiastic stewardship of Percy Grainger, who eagerly requested both printed and manuscript copies of his friend’s compositions. It was performed in Darmstadt in 1900 and supposedly rejected by Scott as “immature”. The first two pages of the third movement (a scherzo in duple meter) are missing, but musicologist Leslie D’Ath has extrapolated them on the basis of what follows. The Symphony, dedicated rather effusively to German poet Stefan George, has just received its first recording by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Philharmonic (Chandos 10452). Scott spent most of his preadolescent and late adult years in Germany, the latter as a student, where he met Grainger.

Though Scott as a young man was busily and assiduously assimilating the German language and culture, from the very outset of the G-major Symphony there is a palpable English folk influence. The assured orchestral writing is remarkable for a journeyman composer. The writing for harp in the third movement seems to portend the composer’s later skilful use of it. The finale is a very well thought out theme and variations.

The G-major Symphony is paired with Scott’s much later Cello Concerto. This Concerto also receives its first recording (it was finished in 1937, but never performed), is no less fascinating but sounds as though it had been written by another composer. Its style is mostly impressionistic, and Scott’s deft handling of piano, harp and celesta as orchestral instruments is striking. It is captivating colorful and skillfully written music, with a demanding cello part handled with an assurance equal to that of the composer by Paul Watkins. Watkins, recently appointed associate conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra, is also making a name for himself as a conductor. The concerto is a wonderwork, a treat to listen to.

Cyril Scott, who died on the very last day of 1970 and was still working at the time of his death (he was then 91), left behind a number of large works, including two piano concertos (included in Chandos’ series devoted to Scott’s music). Scott emphatically rejected serial techniques and atonality from the beginning, but he was never afraid of dissonance. He was an imaginative landscape painter with a style all his own, and wrote many books in all phases of his long life: poetry, translations of Stefan George’s poems, books on occultism and theosophy and two books on cancer (one from the late 1930s on alternative treatments, and one from his last years called Cancer Prevention: Some Reassuring Facts). In some ways, his well-known books on the occult overshadowed his varied and highly interesting musical output. In death, he seems to be enjoying a revival of interest in his music, thanks in no small measure to Chandos’ new series of recordings. Currently, his Harpsichord Concerto is being performed in London for the first time in over seventy years.