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.