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Ronald STEVENSON (b. 1928)
Rhapsody: Lyric music of Ronald Stevenson
Three Lyric Pieces (1947-50):
Vox Stellarum (1947) [5:01]; Chorale Prelude for Jean Sibelius (1948) [6:01]; Andante sereno (1950) [5:31])
Three Nativity Pieces (1949):
Gold: Children's March [3:56]; Frankincense: Arabesque [6:30]; Myrrh: Elegiac Carol [4:34]
Symphonic Elegy for Liszt (1986) [14:15]
A Carlyle Suite (1995) 
Aubade (Morning Song) [2:01]; Souvenir de Salon: Jane Welsh Carlyle listens to Chopin [6:42]; Variations - Study in historical styles on a theme by Frederick the Great Theme (8 bars) & I. In Baroque style [0:46]; II. In Rococo style [0:47]; III. In Romantic style [0:43]; IV. In Impressionist style [1:17]; V. Expressionist style [2:07]; VI. Sketch for a new classicality [1:36]; Scherzino - Schottische : Jeannie's Wit [1:17]; Serenade (Evening Song) [1:58]
Scottish Folk Music Settings for Piano (c.1959-65) 
(2. Waly, waly [2:55]; 3. A rosebud by my Early Walk [2:18]; 8. The Hielan Widow's Lament [2:12]; 9. Hard is my fate [2:56]; 10. Ne'erday Sang [2:56])
Sheena Nicoll (piano)
rec. The Whiteley Hall, Chethams School of Music, Manchester, 19-20 April 2006

A confirmed and convincing exponent of Stevenson, Sheena Nicholl has performed four handed with the composer on the concert platform as well as proselytising for his music on her own. There are photographs of the two together, in repose and at the keyboard, and also a rather delightful one of her in one of the gorgeous rooms at Cesky Krumlov - let's hope she played some Stevenson to the Czechs.
The piano works of which, I believe, A Carlyle Suite is heard here in its premiere recording, are worthy of close study even if not all are deadly serious. The Three Lyric Pieces include Vox Stellarum, in which the composer notes that it reflects a girl's singing. It's the earliest piece here, written when Stevenson was nineteen. The Chorale Prelude for Jean Sibelius is not untroubled. Though the Chorale does eventually take wing, as it were, even now the music is not clement; turbulence remains barely contained.
The Three Nativity Pieces date from 1949. There's a lumpy, wobbly Children's March (Gold) and something rather charmingly French about the central piece, an arabesque for Frankincense. Myrrh is an Elegiac Carol and it carries with it a lied-like charge, the curve of which sounds almost Loewe-like - in its reflective, brooding moments it even put me in mind of his Der Konig auf dem Turme.
The Symphonic Elegy for Liszt is a much later and much different work of course. It carries with it waves of lament in its complex structure and span. Evoking Liszt's Sonata it also generates tremendous reserves of power - try from 9:00 onwards - as well as significant moments of lyricism. A Carlyle Suite opens with an Aubade, then evokes Jane Welsh Carlyle listening to a recital of Chopin before a series of variations on a theme by Frederick the Great. To balance the opening two movements we end with a Scherzino and finally a Serenade, or Evening Song. The Chopinesque moments have a fine interlacing of the private and the exterior, both reflective and nostalgic but also ebullient. Debussy haunts the Impressionist Style of one of the variations. Another, called Sketch for a new classicality, hearkens back to the opening Baroque Theme.
Finally there are the beautifully textured Scottish Folk Music Settings, of which we hear five, all written between 1959 and 1965. A Rosebud by my Early Walk rolls out with especially evocative cadences but all are delightful. That none overstays its welcome is due to Stevenson's deft handling of his material.
Fittingly sensitive and nuanced performances from Nicholl grace this enjoyable, attractively recorded and well documented recital.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett


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