|ALISTAIR HINTON Variations and Fugue on a theme of Grieg KAIKHOSRU SORABJI Variazione maliziosa e perversa sopra ‘La Morte d’Ase’ da Grieg RONALD STEVENSON Den Bergtekne (after Grieg): Norse Elegy for Ella Nygard: Beltane Bonfire. Donna Amato, Piano. ALTARUS AIR-CD-9021|
This disc, will appeal particularly to piano ‘buffs’ but all is not simply virtuosity and showmanship (with the exception of the brief aphoristic Sorabji in which listeners may be forgiven for not recognising Grieg, despite the composer’s comment that, ‘every note was wrung out of the theme’ - ‘perverse’ it may be, it is certainly complex - but it was written after all as a divertissement to encourage the dedicatee, Alistair Hinton, whose work follows.) The common factor in all three is the music of Grieg, beginning with Stevenson’s sonorous 1990 reworking of opus 32 (originally for baritone, two horns and strings.) Stevenson is a master of transcription - and this work sounds here as if IT were the original conception. There are many felicities of scoring, in parts almost as if two keyboards were in play. The Norse Elegy, written for the memory of the Norwegian wife of Grainger’s doctor, who died from cancer is an eloquent tribute in which Stevenson employs a very Norse idiom, characteristically including in the bass line the cypher ‘E la la A’. His Beltane Bonfire is a ‘festive’ piece, full of fire. Despite its virtuosity, its underlying Celticism evokes dark race-memories in the central ‘fugued chorale’.
Alistair Hinton’s 58 minute work is a darkly romantic set of eighteen variations, with an introduction and culminating in an expansive double fugue. In the course of this impressive work the composer explores some of the most inventive piano writing (a comparison with Stevenson’s Passacaglia is not inappropriate). The theme Ase’s Tod sombrely Brahmsian at the outset undergoes very dramatic treatment, sometimes cortège-like, sometimes tempestuous, its extension in the final variations ranging widely in fragmented patterns of ever increasing complexity, yet never losing contact with the original elegiac motivation. A ‘big’ work by any standard it is convincingly played, in a performance of great power, by the American, Donna Amato.
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