Classical CD Reviews

CYRIL SCOTT: Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 59; No. 3; Sonata Melodica – Clare Howick, violin/ Sophia Rahman, piano – Naxos

Not stereotypically "British," Scott's life and music is closer to Scriabin.

Published on October 7, 2010

CYRIL SCOTT: Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 59; No. 3; Sonata Melodica – Clare Howick, violin/ Sophia Rahman, piano – Naxos

CYRIL SCOTT: Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 59; No. 3; Sonata Melodica – Clare Howick, violin/ Sophia Rahman, piano – Naxos 8.572290, 74:27 ****:

Cyril Scott (1879-1970) was an oddball without question—poet, painter, occultist, and prolific musician, he composed over four hundred works including four symphonies, three operas and concerti for piano, violin, cello, oboe and harpsichord. For the violin he wrote about 20 pieces including four sonatas, a Sonata Lirica and Sonata Melodica (heard here). His music was admired by many, including Percy Grainger, Debussy, Strauss, and Stravinsky. Elgar admitted that many of the modern harmonies found in the works of British composers at the time had been done first by Scott.

As a result his music is defiantly hard to peg—it does not sound stereotypically “British”; in fact, echoes of Debussy and even Scriabin, whose life fits Scott’s the best and whose music has the same sort of mystical quality to it, dominate in a non-obtrusive way. This music is no copycat of those two composers but the elements of each are so omnipresent that it is impossible to miss.

The first Violin Sonata (1908) is rhapsodic and grand in nature, yet one gets the feeling that the last movement is the beginning of another set of thoughts instead of the conclusion to ones already past. But even so the work is so engaging from bar to bar that it becomes an extraordinary enigma as to why it s not played more frequently. The same is said for the Third Sonata—though composed almost 50 years later it has an offbeat insouciance to it that paradoxically draws one deeply into the music.

Don’t let the title of the Sonata Melodica throw you off; this piece is every bit the bona fide sonata like the canonical four, and even its admittedly quirky melodic elements prove to be the glue that sticks with the unassuming listener.

Each of these works has much to commend them, and there seems to be a Scott revival underway at present, with the orchestral music appearing regularly on Chandos. It’s nice to see Naxos getting in on the action, especially when they are offering such gratifyingly engrossing performances as the ones we find here by young Clare Howick and partner Sophia Rahman, who have obviously discovered the secret to Scott’s success, rapturously captured at the Coombehurst Studio at Kingston University in the UK. Recommended!

– Steven Ritter




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