This is the first commercial issue for Stevenson's famous 1964
recording of his DSCH Passacaglia
- a master-work of the
last century. The recording was issued in a limited edition of
100 2LP sets. Unsurprisingly copies are famously scarce. The
back cover of the original LP is reproduced on the back of the
booklet. You might also read the review
of the book on Stevenson
for more information.
is in three parts, the schema of which
is listed in detail in the rear insert of the CD case.
Stevenson began work on the Passacaglia
on Christmas Eve
1960 and substantially completed it on 18 May 1962 ready to present
to Shostakovich during the 1962 Edinburgh Festival.
The work itself spans a vast range of mood and colour. Delicate
little music-box transformations like those in the Suite at tr.
4 (5:30) and the liquid jewelled arabesque variations (tr. 6)
contrast with the dissonant skirl of Pibroch
. The Reverie
at the start of Pars altera
after the Nocturne
closes Pars prima
, begins a seismic upheaval with metallic
arpeggiation created by strumming across the exposed internal
piano strings. The catchy Symphonic March
shakes the foundations.
This vast work carries the blessed scars of influences such as
those of J.S. Bach, Chopin and Shostakovich. These are cheek
by jowl with Spanish voices and an African war-dance to mark
the emergent nations. The great variations at the end of the Pars
are stunningly done. The angular and motoric Triple
provides a nice contrast with Bachian quietude (tr.
20). The Totentanz
provides a Dies Irae
on tr.21. The whole thing holds the listener in thrall and could
hardly be more authoritative.
This private recording, made in Cape Town, caught the imagination
of William Walton who urged OUP to publish the work which they
eventually did in 1968. Stevenson gave the work its European
premiere on 6 June 1966 at Halle in the then DDR. No doubt the
subject matter and schema of the work would have found it ready
friends as at that time did the operas and other works of Alan
Bush also much favoured in the concert halls and opera houses
of the Democratic Republic. Stevenson contributed chapters to
Alan J Poulton’s festschrift on Alan Bush in the late 1970s.
John Ogdon premiered the Passacaglia
in the UK at Aldeburgh
in 1966 having previously broadcast it on the BBC on 22 May 1966.
In 1967 EMI Classics issued Ogdon's studio recording. Stevenson
made another recording - this time for Altarus in 1988. Raymond
Clarke recorded it for Marco Polo in 1993 as did Mark
The sound has been most beautifully captured from the analogue
original. I wonder if this is from the original master tape or
from a good LP. Allowing for a certain claustrophobic sensation
is very enjoyable. Never has this recording sounded as well grounded
and as secure.
Do not be put off by references to hands inside the piano. It’s
mostly a case of the piano played as expected - just supremely
well by a composer at the sustained peak of his executant powers.
The disc is made the more accessible by being in 21 tracks so
one can study this deeply rewarding work with great ease. The
excellent notes also help more than a little.
It is mono and ADD but the atmosphere of the disc is helped by
such tasteful little touches as the disc top being designed as
if it were the original LP in the manner of the Sony Originals
As for the second disc: this is a refugee from a concert recorded
by CBC in Vancouver on 21 April 1976. For a start there's the
ineffable repose and grace of the Schubert-Liszt Du bist die
. The Chopin-Godowsky Etude No.18a
for the left-hand
entangles complexity around the Chopin original. The Gluck/Alkan Gavotte
is spirited. We then come to three Percy
Grainger transcriptions. We know that the two composers - Stevenson
and Grainger - regarded each other highly and the two corresponded.
Stevenson contributed to various published Grainger studies and
has recorded his music. The Ramble on Love
is a masterly
transcription of the last scene of Strauss's Rosenkavalier
Klimtian sprays of notes shimmering and sparkling. Grainger also
tackled Gershwin's Love walked In
and The Man I Love
The first accords the full trembling Liszt treatment to Gershwin's
perennial standard. The second handles the Gershwin standard
with great tenderness - more love than respect. Stevenson's friendship
with Britten endured and Britten's Aldeburgh Festival in 1966
made time for Ogdon's UK premiere of the DSCH Passacaglia
In the Peter Grimes Fantasy
Stevenson pays court to the Grimes
Storm interlude among many other strands. Then follows the imposing
. Stevenson's Prelude, Fugue and
Fantasy on themes from Busoni's Doktor Faust
is another magnificently
woven complex skein full of rewarding and dignified interaction
and striking attitudinal gestures. In 1960 the composer converted
the work into his Piano
Concerto No.1 A
. The work has grave magnificence: taciturn
yet fluent. Stevenson has the gift of appearing to confide his
interpretations rather than announcing them. There is a palpable
personal engagement in his communication.
The sound is not perfect in this more than thirty year old radio
broadcast tape but it is invaluable to enthusiasts and anyone
who wants to engage with great pianism and poignancy. Stevenson
moves from the simple fluency of the Schubert to the rewarding
and intricately tempestuous complexity of his own works.