1566285092For many pianists, our first encounter with the music of Cyril Scott is through his exotic, languorous piece Lotus Land. This was also Georgian pianist Nino Gvetadze’s first introduction to Scott’s piano music, through one of her teachers at Tbilisi Conservatory.

Scott’s music is rarely performed today, though Lotus Land remains a perennial favourite at courses and piano clubs (I first discovered it when a friend played it at a weekend piano course and was drawn to its impressionistic, Debussyan idioms). His characterful piano miniatures were popular at their time of writing, at the start of the twentieth century when a piano graced most drawing rooms and there was a keen appetite and fashion for small pieces and songs which could be enjoyed at home. Lotus Land was a novelty for its time; evocative of exotic Eastern places with its perfumed harmonies and black-key glissandi, it is based on one of Scott’s own poems.

Scott stood on the cusp of the modern era: born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as a student he heard Clara Schumann play, but his music and attitudes were forward-looking, even revolutionary. In addition to music, he also wrote poetry and copious prose on a variety of subjects from mysticism, religion and the occult to health and well-being. A vegetarian, he advocated alternative medicine and herbal remedies.

cyrilscott-nationalportraitgallery
Portrait of Cyril Scott by George Hall Neale (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Both John Ireland and Eugene Goosens recognised Scott’s position at the forefront of modern British composers, a key figure who pioneered a move away from the stranglehold of nineteenth-century Germanic romanticism and a musical conservatism, and he was admired by Wagner, Debussy, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and his lifelong friend and enthusiastic supporter Percy Grainger. But despite a prolific output of orchestral and chamber music, two operas, incidental music, and works for chorus, by the time of the Second World War, Scott’s music had declined in popularity, though he continued to compose, undeterred.

In her new recording of Cyril Scott’s piano music, Nino Gvetadze hopes to give the listener a glimpse into his musical imagination, which produced music which Debussy described as “an intoxication for the ear”. This disc is a selection of Scott’s piano music (Leslie De’Ath has recorded Scott’s complete piano music on the Dutton label), including the six Poems, Summerland, Op 54, and the Pierrot Pieces, Op 35. And of course Lotus Land in a dreamy, hauntingly sensuous reading by Gvetadze which for me evokes the drowsy humid heat of the east.

The influence of Debussy and late nineteenth-century orientalism is clear in Scott’s music. The listener could easily mistake pieces like Sphinx, The Garden of soul-sympathy and the two Pierrot Pieces for the work of Debussy, with their colourful, unexpected parallel harmonies and modality. Poppies from Poems has a Satie-esque eccentricity about it, while Summerland is redolent of Schumann’s Kinderscenzen or Faure’s Dolly Suite. Other pieces are more pedestrian and obviously English, all Edwardian drawing rooms, antimacassars and aspidistras with just a whiff of the exotic in their piquant rhythms and harmonies.

Gvetadze brings much colour, nuance, delicacy and grace to these piano miniatures, assisted by a lovely warm piano. Her sound is transparent, lyrical and elegant, and she is adept at highlighting the quirkiness and undisputed charm of the music, but there is a certain ‘sameness’ to Scott’s music in this selection which tires after a while. But Gvetadze is clearly a passionate advocate of this music, and as an overview of Scott’s piano music, this is an enjoyable, handsomely-produced collection. The CD includes interesting liner notes by Desmond Scott, the composer’s son.


Visions – Cyril Scott Piano Works | Nino Gvetadze (Challenge Records)

 

pfcd065Lambert’s Clavichord Op. 41 (HH 165)

Howells’ Clavichord Book I (HH 237)

Julian Perkins, clavichord

Prima Facie PFCD065/66

The intimate tinkling twang of the clavichord immediately suggests Tudor galliards and other courtly dances, and songs written to fair ladies and noble knights. Herbert Howells was introduced to the clavichord by Herbert Lambert (1881-1936), a photographer and clavichord maker, and began composing miniatures for the instrument, delighting in its expressive qualities, colours and surprising range of harmonics. His two sets of pieces for clavichord, ‘Lambert’s Clavichord’ and ‘Howells’ Clavichord’, pay homage to Tudor keyboard music such as the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, with which Howells would have been familiar, and exploit the same textures, gestures, idioms, cadences, piquant harmonies and expression inherent in Tudor keyboard works. Writing about Lambert’s Clavichord in 1928, organist and musical scholar Dr (later Sir) Richard Terry observed: “Mr Howells has absorbed all the wealth and variety of Tudor rhythms, but keeps his own individuality intact. His music is modern inasmuch as he uses chords and progressions unknown in Tudor times, but the spirit of the old composers is there all the while.”

There are galliards and pavanes, fancies and groundes in Howells’ two suites, pieces common to Tudor and Renaissance dance suites, and Howells plays on the organisation of Tudor keyboard suites by giving his miniatures titles such as ‘My Lord Sandwich’s Dreame’, ‘De la Mare’s Pavane’ and ‘Sir Richard’s Toye’. The pieces are warm, witty salutes to Howells’ friends and fellow composers. Howells intended them to be thus – “to my friends pictured (or at all events affectionately saluted) within” – with references to the dedicatee’s own music, or in tribute of their life and work (for example, ‘Finzi’s Rest’ was written the day after Gerald Finzi died and its simple melody is a fitting honour to Finzi’s writing). Meanwhile, in ‘Walton’s Toye’, the opening theme suggests William Walton’s ‘Crown Imperial’, but it is quickly overtaken by rapid quavers which give the piece propulsion and animation. Some pieces are jazzy, replete with unexpected dissonances and satisfying resolutions; others are lyrical and tender. Some pieces stray into the realms of pastiche, but never to the extent that the musical strength and imagination is lost.

There is nothing po-faced or academic about the playing on this double disc album, and Julian Perkins brings vibrancy and colour to his performance, using a selection of clavichords for the recording by Dolmetsch and Goff.

Howells never intended the suites to be confirmed to the clavichord or harpsichord alone, and these pieces are equally delightful on the modern piano (a notable recording by John McCabe is worth exploring for comparison). The pieces are within the reach of the intermediate to advanced pianist.

This is the first complete recording on clavichord of this music, and this new recording is dedicated to the memory of Ruth Dyson, noted pianist, harpsichordist and clavichord player, in her centenary year.

There is some background hiss on the recording (more obvious when listening through headphones), but the instruments themselves sound bright and richly coloured. Comprehensive liner notes by Andrew Mayes, together with a note on the instruments by Peter Bavington and performance notes by Julian Perkins.

Release date: 3 November 2017.

Further information

ELGAR’S REVELATORY PIANO TRANSCRIPTION OF THE ‘ENIGMA VARIATIONS’

in a new album with

RARE CHAMBER WORKS BY BRITISH 20TH-CENTURY COMPOSERS

ENIGMAS: Solo piano and chamber works

by Elgar, Leighton, Rubbra, Bowen and Sackman

Performed by acclaimed young artists:

ELSPETH WYLLIE piano

solo and chamber recitalist, appearances at the Purcell Room, Fairfield Halls, and for BBC Radio Scotland

CLAIRE OVERBURY flute 

guest player with Britten Sinfonia, the RPO, and the Hallé Orchestra

HETTI PRICE cello

appearances at the Southbank Centre and on BBC Radio 3 In Tune

ALEXA BEATTIE viola 

guest player with Munich Chamber Orchestra, ensemble appearances with Lisa Batiashvili and Kim Kashkashian

CATHERINE BACKHOUSE mezzo-soprano 

Britten Pears Young Artist 2015, solo appearances with Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Garsington Opera

To coincide with Elgar’s 160th birthday on 2nd of June 2017, Divine Art is releasing a recital recording of solo piano and chamber works, featuring Elgar’s own solo piano transcription of his much-loved Enigma Variations.  Elgar originally extemporised and sketched out the music at the piano, and his transcription highlights the intimate nature of a work inspired by friends and acquaintances.

This is complemented by a varied collection of masterful repertoire by British composers. Edwin York Bowen’s Sonata for flute and piano is well-known to flautists and Kenneth Leighton’s Elegy is familiar to many cellists – both works deserve to be more widely-known as staples of post-romantic concert repertoire. Edmund Rubbra’s Two Sonnets by William Alabaster for trio are exquisite, essential listening, and this is the first modern-day recording with a mezzo – as Rubbra intended. Finally, a premiere recording of Nicholas Sackman’s Folio I for solo piano, a lively suite originally written for his family.

Recording release date: 19 May 2017

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A SAMPLE TRACK

LIST OF WORKS:

EDWARD ELGAR – Enigma Variations, Op.36 (composer’s own piano transcription)

KENNETH LEIGHTON – Elegy for cello and piano

EDWIN YORK BOWEN – Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 120

NICHOLAS SACKMAN – Folio I for solo piano  *premiere recording*

EDMUND RUBBRA – Two Sonnets by William Alabaster for medium voice, viola and piano Op.87

ENIGMAS Solo piano and chamber works (Divine Art catalogue no. DDA 25145)

CDs available to pre-order:  www.elspethwyllie.co.uk/enigmas-cd/

Digital format available 19 May: www.divineartrecords.com

For further information please contact:

Kathryn Marshall (Divine Art) – Kathryn@divineartrecords.com

Elspeth Wyllie (performer) – 07878 411300