Wednesday 29 January 2020

From Georgia to Lotus Land: pianist Nino Gvetadze in music by Cyril Scott

Visions - Cyril Scott piano works; Nino Gvetadze; Challenge Classics
Visions - Cyril Scott piano works; Nino Gvetadze; Challenge Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 January 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A delightful exploration of Cyril Scott's smaller piano works

The origins of this disc lie in Georgia, where the young pianist Nino Gvetadze was given Cyril Scott's Lotus Land to perform by her teacher, Nodar Gabunia. Some years later, Gvetadze has returned to Scott for her sixth disc, Visions on the Challenge Classics label. Here Gvetadze explores a wide selection of Scott's smaller piano pieces, from Lotus Land and Water Wagtail to Poems, Summerland and Over the Prairie.

Whilst Scott's smaller piano works like Lotus Land remain popular, Cyril Scott the wider composer is only slowly coming into focus. Born in 1879 he trained at the Frankfurt Conservatory where he was part of the loose grouping, the Frankfurt Gang, with Percy Grainger, Balfour Gardiner, Norman O'Neill and Roger Quilter. A prolific and highly-regarded composer in the first quarter of the 20th century, his music seemed to gradually recede from view perhaps as his late-Romanticism ceased to be so current. Perhaps also there is that element of being a musical orphan as the First World War cut him off from the roots of his musical training, and meant he was separate from the English musical establishment, much of which was Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music trained. This is a vein which you can detect in other German-trained composers as various as Delius and Ethel Smyth.

There is also the issue that Scott was a remarkable polymath, something the English seem to distrust. As well as being a prolific composer, he was a notable author, and wrote about occultism and alternative medicine.

For her selection of piano pieces, Nino Gvetadze concentrates on the Scott's work from the first decades of the 20th century, this was a period when he produced a considerable quantity of smaller works including short piano pieces.
These are all evocative, romantic and beautifully crafted, and Gvetadze is clearly fully in sympathy with the romantic shapes and the often lush harmonies. Listening to the disc you are struck by the consistent musical voice in these works. It is a voice which is typified by the finely judged hints of exoticism in Lotus Land.

This is delightful music, and if you dip into this disc you will not be disappointed. Nino Gvetadze plays with immense sympathy and a sense of classicism which keeps the lusher elements of Scott's music in check, and there are some wonderfully dramatic moments too. But it is rather like indulging in a box of chocolates all with soft centres, no matter how finely crafted you long for something tougher. I do wish that Gvetadze had investigated Scott's piano sonatas (there are three plus an early one), and these notably take us from the Scott of the 1910s to the later styles which leave some of the lushness, romantic sweetness behind.

Whilst his works have been recorded (the complete solo piano music is on Dutton), you feel that the music of Cyril Scott is still not properly known. This is a lovely disc from which to explore Scott's fascinating and distinctive view of the piano as a solo instrument. And that all this comes from a young pianist in Georgia discovering Scott's Lotus Land makes the disc all the more fascinating.

Visions - Cyril Scott piano works
Cyril Scott (1879-1970) - Berceuse
Cyril Scott - Poems
Cyril Scott -  Lotus Land, Op.47 No.1
Cyril Scott -  Water - Wagtail, Op.71 no.3
Cyril Scott - Sphinx Op.63
Cyril Scott - Intermezzo, Op.67 No.3
Cyril Scott - Summerland Op.54
Cyril Scott - Two Pierrot Pieces Op.35
Cyril Scott - Columbine Op.47 No.2
Cyril Scott - Three little Waltzes Op.58
Cyril Scott - Morning Song in the Jungle (from Impressions of the Jungle Book)
Cyril Scott - Over the Prairie
Nino Gvetadze (piano)
Recorded at Muziekgebouw Frits Philips Eindhoven, the Netherlands, 29-30 April and 1 May 2019
Available from Amazon.

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