Lyrita’s reach extends here to the late 1950s
sessions made by that pioneering British pianist James Gibb.
The repertoire is Rawsthorne and Stevens and the occasional
cross-currents are bracing and provocative – principally it’s
Stevens who occasionally dons a Rawsthorne-like mantle though
he is very much an individualist and as the Sonata and the Fantasia
show most eloquently, a formidably equipped composer for the
Chronologically it’s best to begin with Rawsthorne
whose Four Bagatelles get the disc off to a tart and brusquely
witty start. Rawsthorne’s very personalised Siciliano,
shot through with wintry hauteur, is the second of the four.
The Lento is the last movement, veiled and serious-minded
and at only two minutes in length a dense and weighty Bagatelle
indeed. The Sonatina was actually first performed by Gibb, in
1949. The dryness of the recorded set up is in itself not inappropriate
given the occasional tartness and brittleness of the musical
argument. The Lento is perfectly controlled and eloquent, and
the dynamism of the Allegro finale a testament to Gibb’s
unerring insight into the music. The flourishes here are extrovert
and sweep away any residual feelings of malinconia engendered
by the preceding Allegretto. The Four Romantic Pieces
marry sternness with virtuosity though the second has its lighthearted
and filigree moments. Mussorgsky peals haunt the final Adagio
maestoso but the work ends in Rawsthornian disquiet nonetheless.
How valuable and fortunate we are to have these late 1950s inscriptions
No less so in fact the cache of Stevens recordings.
As with Rawsthorne’s Sonatina, the Five Inventions - written
a year after that Sonatina - have Gibb’s imprimatur on them;
they were dedicated to him. The first Adagio is brooding, almost
speculative whilst the second Adagio is altogether more agitated
and powerful though it sports a reflective central panel. The
finale is a two part invention with a dislocated Parisian feel;
highly impressive and characterful. The Op.17 Ballad
journeys from terse to acerbic and thence to scurrying but does
also enshrine a songful-folklike element too – albeit in a gaunt
and never effusive way. Similarly the Fantasia on ‘Giles
Farnaby’s Dreame’ eschews all trace of ‘hey nonny’ or easy
servings up of slabs of cold meat. On the contrary this is a
hugely clever and winning work, wide ranging, that evokes its
source material but allows it to drift off harmonically to more
diffused waters and emotive states. The return to the original
Farnaby theme is as seamless as Stevens’s imagination is inspired.
The final work is the Sonata in one movement, written in 1954.
It shares a certain kinship with Rawsthorne perhaps, though
Stevens as ever retains absolute personalisation and identity.
It’s a work of concentration and reflective pang – an acute
work, cumulatively moving and played with total dedication by
There are more recent recordings of these pieces.
If you need up to date sound – these Lyritas are as noted somewhat
boxy – you can seek out Florian Uhlig’s splendid Dutton Epoch
set of the complete Stevens works[CDLX
7160] – and for the Fantasia and the Sonata you can also
dig out Jeremy Filsell’s useful Guild GMCD7119 though I have
it in its first incarnation on Gamut GAM CD541. For Rawsthorne
John Clegg has turned in a fine disc on Paradisum
PDS CD2 which includes the Theme and Four Studies and the
But if you want this admittedly specialised selection
you could do no better than to turn to these authoritative performances
by James Gibb, one of the more undersung of native players,
and one of the most admirable.