Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett




Ronald STEVENSON (b.1928)
A'e Gowden Lyric: Songs by Ronald Stevenson
A Child's Garden of Verses [1-17]
1. Dedication
2. Bed in Summer
3. The Land of Nod
4. Time to Rise
5. Singing
6. Rain
7. Windy Nights
8. Shadow March
9. My Shadow
10. Fairy Bread
11. The Swing
12. Summer Sun
13. From a Railway Carriage
14. Autumn Fires
15. When the golden day is done
16. The Lamplighter
17. Envoy
18. Traighean (Shores)
19. The Robber
20. Hill Sang
21. The Gaelic Muse
22. The Buckie Braes
23. The Quiet Comes In
24. The Bobbin-Winder
25. To the Future
26. O Wha's the Bride
27. Trompe L'Oeil
28. The Bonny Broukit Bairn
29. Fairytales
30. Hallowe'en Sang
31. The Plum Tree
32. The Day is Düne
33. The Rose of All the World
34. The Droll Wee Man
35. A'e Gowden Lyric
Susan Hamilton (soprano)
John Cameron (piano)
world premiere recordings
rec. 21-22 Nov 2001, St Mary's Collegiate Church, Haddington, East Lothian. DDD
DELPHIAN DCD 34006 [66.59]




Those who know Stevenson only from the Passacaglia on DSCH or from the First Piano Concerto of 1959-60 will be well advised to lend an ear to these songs. The bulk consists of seventeen poems that comprise Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses but all thirty-five compiled here are full of incident and interest, full of lyrical flowering and, where necessary, a distinct shudder. In Bed in Summer the piano seems to shadow the vocal line with innocent insistence whereas in The Land of Nod a depth of interior projection is conveyed through sparingly intense means. Stevenson employs a freely melismatic moment on the words Nod and Dreams. He deepens the mood in the second unaccompanied verse and becomes darker and more intense in the third, mirroring the suggestive lines but imbuing them with an even greater sense of ambiguity and interiority before returning suddenly to the frisky mood of the opening. The concision and apposite changeability with which Stevenson sets this little poem, less than two minutes long, is a sign not only of compositional astuteness but also of emotional identification with the child’s view of the world.

Stevenson is not afraid to emphasise the powerful sound of nature, such as the pitter-patter of the rain in the poem of that title, its onomatopoeic insistence one of drizzly certainty, or the breathless battening of the wind in Windy Nights. The blatancy of these depictions – visual and dramatic – seems to mirror in moments of tense concentration the child’s seemingly magnified intensity of sensory feeling. Thus in a setting like Shadow March the fear is all the more exacting for being underplayed ("All around the house is the jet black night;/ It stares through the window pane;"). Until, that is, it’s unleashed in the most insinuating way imaginable – a repeated tramp, tramp, tramp emphasised by the piano’s cruelly indifferent raps. Then there’s the chordal heroism of the piano part in the burgeoning beginning Summer Sun. How eloquently Stevenson responds to his namesake’s second verse, where the composer emphasises the sun’s benevolence and not its blistering glory – and the final chordal flourish seems to dazzle us anew with its all enveloping warmth. Stevenson gives us the railway rhythm of From a Railway Carriage as well as the luxurious languor of Autumn Fires. Susan Hamilton’s soprano is exactly right for this music; unknowing, keenly boyish, dead centre-of-the-note, it has a perfect foil in John Cameron’s pianism, which is superbly nuanced and characterised.

The companion songs take poems by Hugh MacDiarmid and William Soutar and one by Sorley MacLean. There’s the rhythmically bracing The Robber, a Ravelian Hill Sang complete with its nature tracery in the piano part and much wit in The Buckie Braes. His simplicity always carries a lyric charge – witness the beautiful setting of To the Future – but skittishness, a certain frolicsomeness is also part of the lexicon of Stevenson’s response to the poems as one can hear in the delightful Hallowe’en Sang The Day is Düne has a lullaby simplicity to it, a gentleness and becalming generosity that make it an especially attractive setting. The recital ends with the lyric that gives this disc its title – an absolutely beautiful song.

There are some fine notes by Colin Scott-Sutherland and full texts are printed. These songs capture the wideness of Stevenson’s imagination and its charm and punch; their fast rhythms and lullaby cadences add depth and thoughtfulness, amplifying, refracting and complementing the poets’ lines in a way that enriches and moves.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Rob Barnett (Recording of the Month May03) and Colin Scott-Sutherland (Disc of the Year)


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