A Cracking Start!

Scott BrothersThat’s my assessment of the first concert in the 2016/17 season of events being presented by the Milverton Concert Society. The organisers themselves were a little anxious about this opening concert – two young brothers from Manchester playing piano and organ duets is a slightly unusual offering, but the Scott Brothers Duo blew us away with an evening of sheer musical virtuosity and it was great fun to boot. Tom (piano) and Jonathan (organ) both studied at Chetham’s School of Music and later at the Royal Northern College.

As soon as the organ blasted in after the quiet opening bars of Rossini’s ‘Italian Girl in Algiers’ overture (reminiscent of Haydn’s ‘Surprise’ symphony) I knew that this was a unique experience in the making! Rossini’s overture is relentless and full of rhythmic traps – I was amazed at how the two widely separated players kept in sync – stunning. I did observe Tom occasionally making micro adjustments in tempo but these were so smoothly and adeptly done that the music didn’t falter in any way.

And so it continued throughout the evening. We heard an astonishing miscellany of pieces in varied music styles, some written specifically for this instrumental combination, others arranged by the brothers Scott. Some of the pieces were totally new to me, and they received powerful advocacy from these two fine musicians. Benjamin Burrows’ “Variations on an Original Theme” was a case in point. After its Bach choral-like statement of the theme, we went through a fascinating succession of ‘spot the style’ variations – Elgar here, Schumann there, a pastorale, a glorious maestoso, a touch of Rachmaninov and a fabulous fugue worthy of Reger at his best. This is a piece which deserves greater popularity.

Pietro Yon is not a name I knew, and despite his beginnings as a Vatican organist, his ‘Concerto Gregoriano’ is the least churchy music imaginable! With echoes of Widor, Saint Saens and Reger, this piece is a glorious romp, not least for its stunning pedals-only cadenza – Jonathan gave us amazing pedal glissandi and only Fred Astaire could have matched what his feet were doing (quite invisibly to us!).

The famous Bach/Gounod ‘Ave Maria’ was a welcome period of tranquillity, and when they played a repeat with more of Gounod’s melody given to the piano part, Tom’s contribution was one of great beauty.

The first half ended with Addinsell’s so-called ‘Warsaw Concerto, with the organ taking the orchestral role. Despite a breathtaking display of pianistic virtuosity by Tom (it might be film music, but you need a top-rank concert pianist to play it) I felt this was the least successful item of the evening. Addinsell’s original orchestral scoring matches the lushness of the Rachmaninov style it was designed to emulate, and I felt that the organ couldn’t quite cope with the demands.

On the other hand, their transcription of Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ overture was a triumph from start to finish, as was the gentle rocking ‘Pastorale’ of Guilmant. In this latter piece the theme continually swapped between piano and organ as it became more complex rhythmically and chromatically and the richly sonorous climax led us into a tranquil conclusion – lovely.

Tom Scott’s own composition ‘Timepiece’ inspired by pendulum clocks and their ability to synchronise out of asynchronicity was fascinating and I particularly enjoyed the way, as the themes combined into a thicker texture, the insistent, driving piano rhythms almost forced the music into synchronisation – an ingenious composition.

Mascagni’s famous ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ Intermezzo was beautifully done and the barnstormingly spectacular and virtuosic 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody of Liszt was given the full works to end the evening. Tom’s pyrotechnical piano playing was utterly stunning and the applause was long and rapturous. The encore of a piano duet version of Strauss’s ‘Tritsch Tratsch’ polka was glorious and showed that Jonathan’s piano playing was also of the highest order.

These two unassuming young men gave us an evening of wonderful music played with the highest skill and virtuosity. As I said at the beginning, what a start to the new season – the ‘Milverton Fridays’ just get better and better.

Review by Harold W. Mead, 22/10/2016