Allan STEPHENSON (b.1948?)
Burlesque for Double Bass and Small Orchestra (1974) [8:47]
Concerto for Double Bass and Small Orchestra (2005) [22:04]
Concerto for Cello and Full Orchestra (2004) [31:39]
Leon Bosch (double bass); Peter Martens (cello)
Cape Philharmonic Orchestra/Allan Stephenson
rec. Hugo Lambrechts Music Centre, Cape Town, 21-23 December 2010.
MERIDIAN CDE84602 [62:00]
Allan Stephenson was born in Wallasey on the Wirral peninsula across the Mersey from Liverpool. He studied at what was then, in the late 1960s, the Royal Manchester College of Music, Having graduated he emigrated in 1973 to take up the position of sub-principal cello with the orchestra he now conducts for this project.
His conducting debut with the CTSO came with the premiere of his own First Symphony which he started on Llandudno pier and finished in the Cape. Stephenson has for many years been a loved and active figure in South Africaís music-making. Rather like Malcolm Arnold he has written concertos for many orchestral instruments as well as other orchestral pieces, chamber works and three operas. His Bassoon and Guitar Concerto was premiered in 2006 with the CTPO and 2010 saw Suzanne Martens premiering the Stephenson Violin Concerto in Bloemfontein and Cape Town.
This not the first time I have heard the music of this composer. In the 1980s the South African label Claremont issued a couple of CDs in which he conducted the Cape Town orchestras in works of his written in the second half of the 1970s. There was an Oboe Concerto (1978) played by Laszlo Bohr, a Piano Concerto (1977) in which the pianist was Stewart Young, a Piccolo Concertino (1980) with Lucian Grujon (piccolo) and John Juritz (harpsichord) and a 1976 Toccata Festiva. Claremont also chose Stephenson to conduct for their CD of pianist Thomas Rajnaís Piano Concerto No. 2 and Harp Concerto (CD GSE 1526).
I mentioned Malcolm Arnold earlier. There are some quite vibrant parallels though he is no facsimile. Stephenson writes mellifluous melodic music with the potency to engage listeners on the instant. Leon Bosch is already well known for his other Meridian double bass discs: Russian, British, Hungarian and Virtuoso. As soloist in the Burlesque he is in total and articulate identification with this fun bravura music. It sings and dances with a sunny temperament and magnificent optimism well to the fore. You will recognise several Arnoldian hallmarks especially the high woodwind flutings and power-floated string melodies of sumptuous breadth and superb emotional impact. Itís a cracking work that everyone needs to hear. Let it once appear in a televised music competition and everyone will be whistling this piece where ideas meet expressive duration in perfect equipoise. Its brethren include the best of the Arnold concertos and English concert overtures such as the Mathias Dance Overture and Daniel Jonesí Dance Fantasy. The Double Bass Concerto is in three soulfully lilting movements with plenty of rhythmic paprika, dancing torque and cantabile. Deeply enjoyable. It took him a while to square up to a concerto for his own instrument but he completed the Cello Concerto in 2004. His gift for caramel and gold melodic invention is again hits full stride Ė try 3:03 in the first of the three movements. The idea reminds me a little of Tom Contiís exuberant theme for Dynasty but it is gloriously done. After an undulating and heart-warming Poco lento we come to a fleet-footed and sometimes wild-eyed finale.
I cannot over-emphasise the attractions of this acoustically and emotionally warm CD. If Mr Stephenson were to send me concert recordings of his other works including the symphony and other concertos they would make the basis for an attractive feature article with no hardship whatsoever. Rather paralleling Stephensonís writing style in the liner-note there are no technical obstacles to captivating expression. Letís also hear more from the superbly talented Bosch and the masterful Martens who are both fluent advocates of this music. I hope that this is not the last disc we get from this composer.
Power-floated melodies of sumptuous breadth and superb emotional impact.