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Ronald STEVENSON (b. 1928)

Piano Concerto No.1 Faust Triptych [29:51]

Piano Concerto No.2 The Continents [35:05]
Murray McLachlan (piano)
Chetham's Symphony Orchestra/Julian Clayton
rec. Studio 7, BBC Manchester, 19-20 February 1993. DDD
REGIS FORUM FRC 9109 [65:06] 



The spirit of Liszt and Busoni lives on in the passionate intellectual writing of the Blackburn-born and Scottish-resident composer Ronald Stevenson. We hear far too little of his music in concert or on record these days.

While we continue with frustration to await first recordings of his 1992 Violin Concerto and 1998 Cello Concerto, Stevenson's two piano concertos were first recorded in 1992 and issued on the late lamented Olympia label in 1993 (OCD 429). These are provocative, stirring and yet totally unbombastic concertos with a serious jaw-set and with unfashionable grandeur in their grasp.

The First Piano Concerto is called Faust Triptych and was premiered in Glasgow by the composer in 1966. The Faust in question is Busoni's Doktor Faust. The work's seriousness of purpose does not preclude grand romantic gestures even if these are sometimes lichen-hung as in the early part of the Fuga finale. Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos 3 and 4 (III, 3:48), Medtner's Ballade Piano Concerto No. 3 (III) and Liszt's Totentanz (I) occurred to me at various points. However this is truly the work of an original unafraid to show his roots. 

The Second Piano Concerto, The Continents was commissioned by the BBC in 1972. It is presented here in thirty-one small movements each of which is indexed; does your player have this facility? Mine does not. Otherwise it's in a single track. This is a phantasmal piece in a series of impressionistic mosaic tesellae. The whole thing is very varied and reflects a development from the political symbolism of the DSCH Passacaglia which divides the concerto from its predecessor. It remains serious and is in no significant sense a series of world-music postcards. In its rapidly changing mosaic it encompasses gamelan, negro spiritual, blues, Russian march, Chinese, Vietnamese, Pibroch, Hindu, Bulgaria, Japanese haiku, aboriginal melody, ragtime, African drumming, the DSCH germ from the Passacaglia and the Clavis Astartis theme from the Faust Triptych. Some of this is avant-garde in the early 1970s style but surprisingly little really. The work is substantially in three large movements titled Asia, Europe and America-Latin America. These are preceded by Prologue, Evocation of African drumming and Australasia.

Be not afraid of the student orchestra for the results are thoroughly professional and of course Murray McLachlan has a justified leonine reputation in this sphere.

The notes are also by Murray McLachlan.

Rob Barnett



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