Ronald STEVENSON (1928-2015)
Piano Music Volume Two
Christopher Guild (piano)
rec. Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton, England, 5 and 12 June 2016 (?)
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0388 [66:37]
Regarded as a Scottish composer, Ronald Stevenson was actually born in Blackburn in Lancashire, not too far from my home. He is thus something of a local hero of the county. That said, until recently I knew very little of his music, in fact I still don’t. A fine recording of his ‘opus maximus’, his Passacaglia on D.S.C.H, by Murray McLachlan (Divine Art 25013), was all I had. I have since invested in the excellent volume one of this series (TOCC 0272), and on that evidence, combined with this recording, I only hope that Christopher Guild goes on to record the rest of Stevenson’s piano music.
Stevenson had a Welsh mother and a Scottish father. Soon after his marriage in 1952, he built upon his father’s heritage and settled in Scotland, where he became a well-respected composer and teacher. Stevenson followed in the footsteps of the likes of Busoni and Grainger in the way that he would transcribe the music of others, usually for the piano. This included the first movement of Mahler’s Symphony no. 10. He also made many transcriptions of folk music from around the world, but especially Scotland. This is something which comes to the fore in this recording, adding further to his Scottish heritage.
The disc opens with a lovely transcription of the slow movement of the second piano concerto by the composer-pianist, Frank Merrick (1886-1981). Merrick himself had suggested to his friend, Stevenson, that it would be a good subject for transcribing. The piece evokes the sea lapping on the shore and breaking on the rocks of the Hebridean islands, something that is portrayed well in this reduction.
Stevenson composed a number of pieces designed for the teaching of children. The Three Scots Fairy Tales fit well into this category. These short pieces are more technical than one might imagine, with Stevenson employing various forms to stretch the pupil. They open with a pipe march, followed by a gentile lullaby reminiscent of a clarsach, or Scottish harp tune. The final piece is a jig, which Guild points out is akin to Bartók.
Probably the most well known of Stevenson’s works presented on this disc, and the only one I have ever heard live, is the A Carlyle Suite. This multi-faceted work begins with a morning song and ends with an evening song. In between is a selection of movements that highlight the different aspects of Carlyle’s life and philosophy. The piece introduces Chopin-like themes and a wonderful set of variations on a tune by the King-composer Frederick the Great. Scottishness returns in the form of a Strathspey or traditional dance tune.
Rory Dall Morison’s Harp Book brings together a selection of eight pieces by possibly two blind harpers of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Here we have Stevenson once again stating his Scottishness, these pieces being direct transcriptions of works destined for the harp. There is a variety of styles, from laments to dance pieces, but they all have a certain charm and I wished that he had transcribed a few more from this collection. The Three Scottish Ballads owe their origin to the Scottish Border ballads. Here Stevenson treats the main themes sympathetically, varying them to produce these wonderful and all too short pieces.
The final work on this disc is a transcription of Lament for a Blind Harper, originally composed by his daughter, Savourna. Composed for the left hand alone, Guild suggests that the piece could have been written as a kind of lament for Rory Dall Morison, since ‘Dall’ meaning blind.
This is an excellent disc. Christopher Guild’s playing is first rate and, I enjoyed it even more than volume one. He shows a great understanding of the man and his music, something that he not only brings out in his playing but also in his invaluable booklet essay, in which he shares his memories of the composer and also includes some of Stevenson’s own writings on the works. As I have said above, this disc, along with volume one, with all their premier recordings, only serves to leave me wanting to hear more, especially if recorded by Guild. Let us hope that Toccata will release further volumes in the series soon.
Previous review: John France
Frank Merrick transcr. Ronald Stevenson
Hebridean Seascape (c.1935/1986)*
Three Scots Fairy Tales (1967)*
No. 1 What the Fairy Piper Told Me
No. 2 What the Fairy Harper Told Me
No. 3 What the Fairy Fiddler Told Me
A Carlyle Suite (1995)
I Aubade (Morning Song)
II Souvenir de Salon
III Variations on a theme by Frederick the Great: Theme
Var. 1: Maestoso barocco. In Baroque style
Var. 2: Allegretto. In Rococo style
Var. 3: Allegro ardente. In Romantic style.
Var. 4: Modere: egal et leger. In Impressionist style
Var. 5: Rezitativ und Marsch. Expressionist style
Var. 6: Versuch einen jungsten Klassizitat. Calmo
V Serenade (Evening Song)
Rory Dall Morison’s Harp Book (1978)*
No. 1 Oran do Iain Breac MacLeoid
No. 2 Feill Nan Crann
No. 3 A’Cheud Di-Luain d’r Raithe
No. 4 Creach na Ciadaoin
No. 5 Oran do MhacLeoid Dhun Bheagan
No. 6 Fuath nam Fidhleirean
No. 7 Cumha Peathar Ruaridh
No. 8 Super Tiynearna Leoid
Three Scottish Ballads (1973)
No. 1 Lord Randal
No. 2 The Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow
No. 3 Newhaven Fishwife’s Cry
Savourna Stevenson transcr. Ronald Stevenson
Lament for a Blind Harper (1986)*
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