Sunday, 16 March 2014

Eileen Joyce: Cyril Scott’s Lotus Land for piano.

On 14th April 1937 Eileen Joyce made a recording of Cyril Scott’s (1879-1970) best known piano piece, ‘Lotus Land’ for Parlophone records. It was issued on a 12ʺ 78 rpm record (E11333) and was coupled with ‘Danse Negre’ by the same composer as well as the ‘Tarantelle’, which was reputedly by Harry Farjeon. It was priced 4/- (20p). Shortly after this session she went on tour in the English provinces.  
‘Lotus Land’ Op.47 No.1 was published in 1905 by Elkin and was given its première by Percy Grainger in the same year. The venue was the Bechstein Hall (now the Wigmore Hall) in London on November 15.  Op.47 No.2 was the piano piece ‘Columbine’ which was composed and published at the same time.
The Gramophone (October 1937) reviewer noted that Cyril Scott’s music is rarely played ‘these days’ and suggests that its ‘obvious weaknesses should not blind pianists to its pleasant qualities.’  It is a sentiment that still stands today.
He suggests that Eileen Joyce brings a ‘warm, if not voluptuous, tone, a delightful certainty of attack, and a sensuous excitement in what she is playing’ to ‘Lotus Land’’. He considers that Scott has ‘drunk… at the fountain of Debussy’ and this mood infuses the piece.  The recording is deemed to be excellent.
Christopher Howell reviewing the remastering of ‘Lotus Land’ for MusicWeb International (March 2012) issued on APR 7502 has suggested that Eileen Joyce ‘seems a bit impatient… [and the piece loses] its sultry decadence.’ Historically, Howell has noted that ‘Scott set down similar performances himself in 1928, with the difference that his pianism was no longer in good shape – if it ever was – and the results are messy’.  He wonders if Joyce knew these early recordings and took them as ‘evidence of the composer’s intentions and simply saw it as her business to realise those intentions with superior pianism…’
From my own point of view, I enjoyed Eileen Joyce’s performance of ‘Lotus Land,’ however I do not feel that she quite brings off the voluptuous, incense laden, sultry mood that the piano score demands.  I agree with Christopher Howell that is just a little too fast. However I imagine that this had much to do with trying to squeeze two pieces onto one side of a 78 rpm disc. For a modern recording I would recommend Leslie De’ath’s version on Dutton Epoch CDLX7150.

Eileen Joyce playing Cyril Scott’s Lotus Land (as well as the Danse Negre and Farjeon’s Tarantelle) can be hear on APR Records (APR7502) and on Testament 1174.  It can also be heard on YouTube

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