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Ronald STEVENSON (1928-2015)
Piano Music - Volume 4
Christopher Guild (piano)
rec. 2017/19, Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton, UK

Following hot on the heels of volume three of Christopher Guild’s ongoing wonderful series of Ronald Stevenson’s piano music (TOCC0403), here we have volume four, a disc inspired by the human voice. As with the previous volume, a large part of the music presented here takes the form of arrangements of other composers' works.

The first of these is a suite of four pieces from Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s opera Manru, his crowning achievement as a composer. The opera tells the story of the love between a highland girl and a gypsy; this tragic love story proves the ideal vehicle for Stevenson to arrange for the piano. The first piece is in two distinct parts: the first, a pensive gentle theme, tells of Ulana’s mother’s fear for her daughter if she leaves with the Gypsy Manru; the second section is a strident march as the Gypsies travel through the village. The second piece, the Gypsy Song is a slow, lilting piece with added exoticism which reflects their travels. The third is a tender Lullaby which is sung to Ulana’s infant while Manru is struggling between his love for Ulana and his desire to join the Gypsies. The final piece in the suite is the spritely Cracovienne, a traditional Polish dance. This is an interesting suite that is treated with respect. The varied styles are sufficient to hold the listener's interest.

Christopher Guild follows this with the first of the original pieces composed by Stevenson. This is the Song without words, a miniature composed as a birthday gift; it is quite charming. Then we hear the more substantial Nine Haiku which are arrangements of songs originally composed by Stevenson to English translations of the original Japanese text. Here Stevenson is clever in the way that he incorporates the pentatonic or five-note scale and the heptatonic or seven-note scale into the music. This is in keeping with the traditional verse form of haiku; five-seven-five is the number of syllables in a haiku. For me these Nine Haiku are the highpoint of the disc. I particularly like the way Stevenson implies orientalism without directly copying it. THe shimmering effects of some of the pieces, especially the Interlude: The blossoming cherry are quite wonderful.

We then return to an arrangement of another composer’s operatic aria, this time the Romance from Gustave Charpentier’s opera Louise. Here Stevenson gives us a charming arrangement of the love duet from the beginning of Act III. Stevenson dedicated this to Marjorie Spedding, his wife of over sixty years.

The largest work on this disc is the L’art nouveau du chant appliqué au piano. The idea itself is copied from ‘L’art du chant appliqué au piano’ by the piano virtuoso and Liszt acolyte Sigismond Thalberg. Here Stevenson gives us three volumes of song transcriptions and arrangements, some twelve pieces in all lasting some forty-one minutes in total. I particularly liked the arrangements of the two songs by Samuel Coleridge Taylor and Maud Valérie White - So we’ll go no more a-roving - all of which have the air of the Victorian parlour song, something that Stevenson has managed to retain well. If Stevenson’s arrangement of Foster’s Jeanie with the light brown hair fails to bring a smile to your face, well then, you are a harder man than me. All of the pieces in this collection are enjoyable, if not overly memorable, demonstrating Stevenson’s obvious skill in adapting other composers’ music to his own needs.

As with the other volumes in this series, Christopher Guild proves an ideal interpreter of Stevenson’s music. His strongly committed playing and copious and informative booklet essays are the main selling points of this series. The recorded sound, as with all Toccata releases, is excellent. This is a worthy addition to the growing catalogue of Ronald Stevenson’s music on disc, especially as many of these pieces are here receiving their première recordings.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: John France

Suite from Paderewski’s Manru (1961): 1. Introduction and Gipsy March [4:22], No.2 Gipsy Song [3:43], No.3 Lullaby [2:56], No.4 Cracovienne [4:07]
Song without Words (1988) [2:12]
Nine Haiku (1971, arr. 2006): No.1 Dedication [1:06], No.2 The Fly [0:50], No.3 Gone Away [2:05], No.4 Nocturne [1:29], No.5 Master and Pupil [0:40], No.6 Spring [1:27], Interlude: The Blossoming Cherry (Aubade) [2:12], No.7 Curfew [1:23], No.8 Hiroshima [0:43], No.9 Epilogue [1:58]
Charpentier: Louise – Romance (c.1970) [3:10]
L’Art Nouveau du chant appliqué au piano (1980–88)
Volume One: No.1 Coleridge-Taylor: Elëanore (1980) [3:53], No.2 White: So We’ll go no more a-roving (1980) [5:52], No.3 Meyerbeer: Romance: Plus blanche que la plus blanche hermine (Les Huguenots) (1975) [5:42], No.4 Rachmaninov: In the Silent Night (1982) [3:17]; No.5 Bridge: Go not, happy day! (1980) [2:00]
Volume Two: No.1 Novello: Fly Home, Little Heart (?1980) [3:03], No.2 Novello: We’ll Gather Lilacs (1980) [4:23], No.3 Coleridge-Taylor: Demande et Réponse (1981) [1:28], No.4 Romberg: Will you remember? (Maytime) (1988) [1:15]
Volume Three: No.1 Foster: Jeanie with the light brown hair (1980) [2:44], No.2 Come where my love lies dreaming (1980) [4:27], No.3 Beautiful Dreamer (1980) [2:49]

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