Ronald STEVENSON (1928–2015) Piano Music - Volume Three
African Twi-Tune: The Bantu and Akrikaaner National Hymns Combined (1964) [1:40] Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Hill Song No. 1 (transcr. Stevenson, 1960) [22:19] Ronald STEVENSON
Sounding Strings (1979) [19:16]
Chinese Folk-Song Suite (1965) [12:44]
Ghanaian Folk-Song Suite (1965) [6:04] Traditional (arr. Stevenson)
Bonny at Morn (1990) [3:47]
The High Road to Linton (1978) [2:31]
Barra Flyting Toccata (1980) [1:46]
Christopher Guild (piano)
rec. 2018, Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton, UK TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0403 [70:22]
It is not so long ago that I reviewed the second volume of Kenneth Hamilton’s survey of Ronald Stevenson’s piano music for Prima Facie (PFCD107). Here I am now with yet another survey of his piano music, this time Christopher Guild’s ongoing cycle on the Toccata label which, on the book side of their business, have also published Ronald Stevenson: The Man and His Music (9780907689409), a collection of essays by various authors about the composer and his music, and The Correspondence of Ronald Stevenson and Percy Grainger (9780907689676), also containing a collection of Stevenson’s writings on Grainger. Both these series offer wonderfully played performances of rare repertoire for which both labels should be applauded, as it is only through performances and recordings that this music of a worthy and up until now neglected composer will enter into the psyche of the listening public.
As with Kenneth Hamilton’s disc, this volume clearly illustrates that there is a great deal more to Ronald Stevenson than just his Passacaglia on DSCH. This disc largely concentrates on transcriptions of various national music, as well as his friend Percy Grainger’s Hill Song No. 1, with many of the pieces receiving their premiere recording. Even so, since for my first listening I proceed without looking at the booklet or the back of the box, I was a bit taken a back to hear the strains of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika coming out of my speakers, but this is exactly what we get. Stephenson was a fierce critic of the South African apartheid policy, despite living and working there in the early 1960s.
The longest work on this disc is Stevenson’s transcription of his friend Percy Grainger’s Hill Song No.1, described as one of Grainger’s most audacious compositions. Filled with challenging twists and turns, it employs differing compositional techniques. This arrangement could therefore be seen as a celebration of the friendship and admiration that Stevenson held for Grainger. Stevenson manages to retain the intensity of the original, although he relaxes a little in the way his textures are somewhat less dense.
By the time we got to Sounding Strings I had picked up the booklet and read it, so was not surprised with what greeted me. The fourteen folk tunes presented here can be performed on the piano, harp or clÓrsach (Celtic harp) and are a collection of music from the Celtic regions, including the Helston Floral Dance for Cornwall and the L’Angelus Breton from Brittany. Some of the original tunes, like The Ash Grove and the Tune from County Derry, the latter also a favourite of Grainger, are very well-known, others less so. These sympathetic arrangements all show Stevenson’s passion for folk music and are all greatly enjoyable.
From the Celtic regions we venture further afield, firstly to China with a suite of five short pieces of Chinese folk music. Whilst none of these tunes are known to me, they all have the traditional feel of westernised versions of the original. However, this is not all bad, as Stevenson puts the same drive and passion into arranging these pieces as he does into his Celtic arrangements. The same can be said of his Ghanaian Folk-Song Suite, a suite of three pieces that the composer came into contact with when living in South Africa. The pieces might not be as identifiably Ghanaian as the Chinese pieces are Chinese, but again they show great passion and care on Stevenson’s part.
For the final three pieces on the disc we return to Scotland, with three stand alone pieces. The first of these is the most recent, with Bonny at Morn being a soft lilting piece; on the other hand, The High Road to Linton is the earliest of the three and has a jogging pace. The final of the three, Barra Flyting Toccata, conjures up, according to a well-known online dictionary, “a ritual, poetic exchange of insults” that usually occurs in verse. The last two of these also appear on Kenneth Hamilton’s recent excellent disc. There is nothing to choose between either.
Throughout this disc, Christopher Guild is excellent. He might be supposed not have the same insight into the music as Hamilton, who studied with the composer, but this does not come over in his playing. Both pianists have a lot to offer. He has also written the detailed and copious booklet essay that accompanies this recording, as he has with other recordings in the series. They considerably aid the listener’s understanding of the music. The recording is blessed with Toccata’s usual high standard of recorded sound, making this a very desirable disc.
African Twi-Tune: The Bantu and Akrikaaner National Hymns Combined (1964)* GRAINGER transcr. STEVENSON (1960)
Hill Song No. 1 Sounding Strings (1979)*
I Harp of Gold (Y Delyn Aur): Welsh Air (Broad, bardic)
II The Ash Grove (Lwyn On): Welsh Air (Allegretto)
III Hal-an-tow: The Floral Dance from Helston, Cornwall (Allegro)
IV A Fairy’s Love Song: Hebridean Air (Moderato)
V The Sheep under the Snow: Manx Air (Andante)
VI Savourneen Deelish: Irish Gaelic Air (Fairly slowly)
VII The Cockle-gatherer: Hebridean Dance-song (Allegretto)
VIII Tune from County Derry: Irish Air (Slowly)
IX Eriskay Love-Lilt: Hebridean Air (Andante, accarezzante (caressingly))
X Ben Dorain: Scottish Gaelic Air (Moderato maestoso)
XI La Basse-Breton: Folk Dance from Brittany (Allegro)
XII The Old Woman’s Reel: Folk Dance from Barra, Outer Hebrides (Not fast but fairly sprightly (remember it’s an old woman’s dance))
XIII L’Angelus Breton: Folksong from Brittany (Andante amabile (gently))
XIV The Child Christs Lullaby: Hebridean Carol from South Uist (Andante) Chinese Folk-Song Suite (May 1965)*
I The Washer-woman and the Flower-girl (Con moto tranquillo)
II A Song for New Years Day (Andante)
III The War-widows Lament (Lento)
IV Beautiful Fresh Flower (Allegretto)
V Song of the Crab-fisher (Allegro con spirito) Ghanaian Folk-Song Suite (1965)*
I Song of Valour
III Leopard Dance
Bonny at Morn (15 Novemer 1990)*
The High Road to Linton (April 1978)*
Barra Flyting Toccata (April 1980)*
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