Tag Archives: Ronald Stevenson

If you listen to one thing this week……

Two things, in fact…..

The first is Renée Reznek‘s new disc From My Beloved Country: New South African Piano Music, which features works by Neo Muyanga, Kevin Volans, Michael Blake, Rob Fokkens, Hendrik Hofmeyr, Peter Klatzow, David Earl and David Kosviner. Some of the works were commissioned by Reznek, including ‘Hade Tata’ (Neo Muyanga, 2013), composed in honour of Nelson Mandela. It opens with a haunting 4- note dirge motif which provides the theme for this programmatic piece whose title translates as “sorry, father”. Written as a tribute to Mandela on the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, the music is suffused traditional Sesotho and Zulu music with Ethiopian melismatic style, jazz and western classical music idioms. It celebrates Mandela’s childhood, his release from prison, and the weight of expectations placed upon him following his release to create a new South Africa.

Kevin Volans’ ‘PMB Impromptu’ (2014) was written “as a little tribute to Renee Reznek’s amazing fingerwork”. It appears to reference the minimalism of composers such as Reich and Adams, but it also pays homage to Debussy in a reworked passage from l’Isle Joyeuse, and Sindling’s ‘Rustle of Spring’. Reznek’s clarity and tonal colour really brings this music to life.

Volans’ ‘A Garden of Forking Paths’ is taken from his Progressively Prickly Piano Pieces, part of a graded series for players of all ages. Here, tonal control and sensitive use of the piano’s resonance create a piece whose meditative mood contrasts perfectly with the previous work.

Two works by Michael Blake from his six-volume cycle Afrikosmos reference Eastern Cape uhadi music, and the connection between this and Bartok’s Mikrokosmos, much of which draws on the folk music of his homeland. Meanwhile, Rob Fokkens’ ‘Five Miniatures’ also explores South African music, but in a concentrated form. These pieces offer ‘micro-studies’ in melody, rhythm, tonal palette and texture.

Partita Africana (Hendrik Hofmeyer) is one of the longer works on the disc. Darker in character, it merges the Baroque prelude and fugue with elements found in African music, including the pentatonic scale, repetitive melodic elements and irregular pulse. It’s an imposing work which evokes the vastness of the African plains.

Peter Klatzow’s ‘Barcarolle (Arnold Schoneberg in Venice)’ is a moody, atmospheric work which commemorates Schoenberg’s visit to Venice in 1925, and the piece includes motifs from the second of his Three Piano Pieces op 11. Reznek highlights the music’s inherent lyricism with a warm sound and sensitive pacing.

‘Song Without Words’ (David Earl) has a personal association for Reznek – it was composed as a wedding present for her daughter and was played during her wedding ceremony. It has the charm and lyricism of a song without words by Mendelssohn, with hymn-like elements in keeping with the ceremony. Earl’s ‘Barcarolle’ was also written in celebration of a family event: commissioned by Reznek on the occasion of her daughter’s engagement, the piece owes something to late Liszt in its haunting, rolling motifs and dramatic climaxes before the music settles into more peaceful waters. These works are played with great warmth and affection by Reznek.

The final work on the disc is ‘Mbira Melody’ (David Kosvner) which celebrates the African “thumb piano”, a instrument consisting of a wooden board with staggered metal keys, which are plucked with the thumbs. Redolent of Volan’s ‘PMB Impromptu’, it is also minimalist in style with its repeating figures and perpetuum mobile character. It ends with a witty chord.

This varied and imaginative collection of piano music reflects the influence of Western European music on South African composers, while also paying homage to the folk music and vernacular of the country. Reznek’s very personal affinity with the highly varied musical idioms presented in this collection is clear from the warmth and ease which is evident throughout, yet she is alert to the myriad moods and characters of each piece, creating an album which is both refreshing and revelatory.

Recommended.

From My Beloved Country is available on the Prima Facie label

https://soundcloud.com/ascrecords/renee-reznek?in=ascrecords/sets/prima-facie-records

5060113443885Scottish pianist Christopher Guild‘s second volume of piano music by Ronald Stevenson could equally be subtitled “From My Beloved Country….”. Although born in Blackburn in Lancashire, Stevenson’s father was a Scot, and the composer settled in the Scottish Border village of West Linton, south of Edinburgh. Scotland proved to be one of the profoundest influences on his life, and this album attests to that: it contains music directly influenced by or drawn from Scottish landscape, heritage and culture, together with works inspired by his creative friendships with other musicians. The album also contains several premiere recordings, including ‘Three Scots Fairy Tales’ which reveal Stevenson’s concern to create attractive and enjoyable music for young piano students. Christopher Guild responds to this by playing the pieces not as simplistic children’s music but instead brings great charm to these miniatures, highlighting their musical sophistication – for example, ‘What the Fairy Harper Told Me’ has Debussyan idioms and offers practise in the use of the sustaining pedal over rolled chords, as well as developing a sweet tone.

The most substantial work on the disc is ‘A Carlyle Suite’ (1995), written to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Thomas Carlyle. It’s a hommage to Carlyle from different viewpoints, and not only those which look directly at Carlyle himself. The second movement, for example, portrays an imaginary recital between Chopin and Jane Carlyle in Chelsea in 1848. Motifs and fragments drawn from Chopin’s mazurkas and a Valse Triste, all presented in a Bel Canto style, mingle with allusions to distinctly Scottish idioms. The seven movements of ‘A Carlyle Suite’ which follow are a ‘Study in historical styles on Frederick the Great’s theme’ (used to J S Bach in the ‘Musical Offering’), a set of variations which explore different musical devices and styles, from a French Baroque Overture (Var. 1) to a variation which evokes Debussy’s tonally ambiguous soundworld (the uninformed listener could easily mistake this for Debussy’s own music) with its whole tone scales and piquant, colourful harmonies.

One of the premiere recordings on the disc is of ‘Rory Dall Morison’s Harp Book’ (1978), a group of eight pieces which Stevenson transcribed from the harp book of the blind harper, Rory Dall Morison (c.1676-c.1714), who was born on the isle of Skye. Stevenson brings striking harmonisations and textures, and a simple poignancy to these simple folk melodies, and Christopher Guild’s crisp articulation and attention to detail evoke the sound of a harp, while his warm cantabile sound reminds us that these pieces are undeniably piano works.

The disc opens with ‘Hebridean Seascape’, Stevenson’s skillful reworking of the slow movement of Frank Merrick’s second piano concerto. It’s an evocative work, Lisztian in its scale and virtuosity, with rich orchestral sonorities, swelling melodies and fleeting birdsong, but also imbued with Scottish musical vernacular (the middle section references a Skye fisherwoman’s chant).

Just as on his first disc of Stevenson’s music, Christopher Guild brings a keen sensitivity to the music’s varying idioms and moods – from sprightly dances to the spacious romance of the Hebridean Seascape, there is much to enjoy from Guild’s assured touch and colourful soundworld. Recorded at Turner Sims Hall in Southampton, the piano tone is bright with a warm, rounded bass which really suits this music. Comprehensive liners notes by Christopher Guild accompany the disc, which include touching reminiscences of his meetings with Stevenson. And if you choose to purchase the album as a download, Toccata Classics have helpfully included a download of the liner notes on their website.

Recommended

Ronald Stevenson Piano Music, volume two – Christopher Guild, piano

Toccata Classics, Catalogue No: TOCC0388
EAN/UPC: 5060113443885

 

 

 

 

Kenneth Hamilton plays Ronald Stevenson, volume 1

81u7rrpufwl-_sl1500_The Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson died in March 2015. He was one of the most important composers of our time, a composer-pianist in the grand tradition of Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov, probably best remembered for his monumental Passcaglia on DSCH, his tribute to Shostakovich composed in 1962. Stevenson has been compared to Liszt and Busoni: he transcribed many works for piano, and he was also a generous supporter of other musicians and students. His musical language is also redolent of these composers, as well Chopin and Alkan, but always with its own distinctive voice and an awareness of his adopted Scottish heritage.

This new disc by pianist and academic Kenneth Hamilton, which marks the beginning of Hamilton’s survey of Stevenson’s vast keyboard output, avoids the really large-scale works, though the Peter Grimes Fantasy is pretty substantial – Stevenson’s own Lisztian operatic paraphrase, in which themes from Britten’s opera are woven into music of expansive, inventive virtuosity and vivid imagination.

The disc works well as a “recital programme” offering an excellent introduction to Stevenson’s varied oeuvre. Alongside the more meaty works such as Beltane Bonfire and Symphonic Elegy for Liszt, there are shorter works, including transcriptions of Scottish folk songs and Three Elizabethan Pieces after John Bull, which are reminiscent of Percy Grainger in the combining of rich harmonies and textures with period music.

Hamilton studied with Stevenson and his understanding of the composer’s personal idioms is evident in his masterful handling of this music: robust and sweepingly romantic in the more bravura works, charming and witty in the shorter pieces with moments of luminous delicacy, as, for example, in Stevenson’s transcription of Rachmaninov’s Lilacs, which is all filigree textures, echoed in the opening of the transcription of Ivor Novello’s We’ll Gather Lilacs.

Recorded on a Hamburg Steinway at the School of Music, Cardiff University, Hamilton achieves a warm resonant sound which is particularly suited to the more expansive, textural works, though occasionally a little too dominant. Overall a most enjoyable disc with comprehensive liner notes by Kenneth Hamilton, which draw on his studies and conversations with Stevenson.

PRIMA FACIE PFCD050 1CD

primafacie.ascrecords.com

CD review: Ronald Stevenson Piano Music Volume 1 – a Celtic Album

The Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson died in March 2015. He was one of the most important composers of our time, a composer-pianist in the grand tradition of Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov, probably best remembered for his monumental Passcaglia on DSCH. Pianist Christopher Guild’s first volume of Stevenson’s piano music was released on the Toccata Classics label in early March 2015, though I suspect Guild did not realise at the time that his recording would become a kind of memorial for Stevenson. The CD celebrates Stevenson’s shorter works for piano with a special focus on one of his major preoccupations: his love of Scottish and Celtic culture. The album contains three suites of pieces based on Scottish folk songs or songs for children, together with the more substantial A Scottish Triptych, three pieces each written some time apart, and A Rosary of Variations on Sean O’Riada’s Irish Folk Mass (1980).

The piano is the ideal instrument for miniatures, and Christopher Guild brings warmth, intimacy and wistfulness to the pieces based on Scottish folk tunes with his assured lightness of touch, sensitive voicing, clean articulation, rhythmic vitality and a keen sense of the fleeting moods and characters of each piece, and Stevenson’s penchant for complex harmonies and unexpectedly vivid dissonances. Meanwhile, A Scottish Triptych explores more plangent piano sonorities in its opening movement, and even utilises the piano’s interior (strummed and plucked strings) to produce unexpected colours and resonances in the final movement.

Christopher Guild is an enthusiastic advocate of Stevenson’s music, and the CD provides a poignant memorial to the composer. I look forward to Volume 2 with interest.

Recommended.

Meet the Artist……Christopher Guild

Toccata Classics

Celebrating Ronald Stevenson and Ronald Center

Ronald Stevenson

A concert exploring a selection of piano works written by two distinctive voices of Scotland’s classical music scene in the 20th century. Ronald Stevenson, whose 85th birthday year it is, is a recognised giant of British Music and an authority on the life and work of Ferruccio Busoni. Perhaps most renowned as a composer for his gigantic Passacaglia on DSCH, the programme will feature some of Stevenson’s smaller piano works.

Ronald Center

Stevenson is honoured in conjunction with a composer rarely heard of even within Scotland during his own lifetime, Ronald Center, whose centenary passed this April. Ever a reclusive character, it is only recently that his music has begun to re-emerge with the first ever survey on record of his complete piano music, by Trinity Laban’s Richard Carne Junior Fellow in Performance, Christopher Guild. A classicist at heart, Center’s music, with its influences of Britten, Prokofiev and Hindemith, stands very much in contrast to much of Stevenson’s.

This FREE, unticketed concert will appeal anyone with an interest in British Music, and those with a passion for making musical discoveries.

PROGRAMME:

Ronald Stevenson: Komm, Susser Tod
Ronald Stevenson: Sonata Senerissima
Ronald Center: Giglot and Toccata
Ronald Center: Six Bagatelles
Ronald Stevenson: Wegenlied aus Alban Bergs Oper ‘Wozzeck’
Ronald Center: Piano Sonata

Performed by:

Alex Lewis, Madelaine Jones, Sally Halsey, Clare Simmonds and Christopher Guild.

Venue:

Thursday 27th June, 6.30pm, Peacock Room, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, King Charles Court, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London SE10 9JF (public transport: DLR Greenwich Cutty Sark, Riverbus Greenwich Pier)

Pianist Christopher Guild will feature in a forthcoming Meet the Artist interview.