RONALD STEVENSON (1928-2015): Piano Music, Vol. 5: Transcriptions - Bernard van Dieren (1887-1936): String Quartet No. 5, Weep You No More Sad Fountains, Spring Song of the Birds, Henry Purcell (1659-1695): Toccata, Hornpipe, 3 Grounds, The Queen’s Dolour - A Farewell, Frederick Delius (1862-1934): The Young Pianist’s Delius, Stevenson: Little Jazz Variations on Purcell’s “New Scotch Tune”.
Catalogue Number: 05W058
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0606
Description: As has by now been well documented, Stevenson was a rarity among 20th century composers and pianists in his view of the creative equivalence of "original" composition and transcription. Easy for him to say, as a practitioner of genius across the entire spectrum, and proven again and again in his recitals and compositional output (and finally summed up in his pianistic magnum opus of the 1990s, the extraordinary Festin d'Alkan (05O075)). This superb programme of widely varied pieces treated with transcriptive alchemy each according to its unique stylistic demands, demonstrates further the truth of Stevenson's unfashionable conviction in this regard. The Purcell Toccata is given the full Bach-Busonian treatment, the piano textures expanding the harpsichord to organ sonorities and proceeding from there, while the Hornpipe is compiled from two separate works for harpsichord, and here Stevenson evokes the harpsichord in terms of the modern grand piano, with the same perfectly idiomatic, utterly inauthentic approach that he brought to his gorgeous performances of Scarlatti. What springs from the seeds planted in Purcell's perennially fertile grounds is pure Stevensonian invention, with contrapuntal additions and pianistic figuration to lend the pieces the kind of narrative richness one might expect from the master of variation who wrote the Passacaglia on DSCH. The Variations - only two are really 'jazzy', though this is a hat that fit Stevenson perfectly when he so chose, as in his 2nd Piano Concerto and the delicious "Sneaky on Sixth" written in New York in 1986 (Sneaky was a cat) - treat Purcell's "Scotch Tune" in the manner of a Grainger harmonisation of a Scots folksong. Stevenson enjoyed inspiring young people to love and appreciate music, and provided several sets of "Tunes for Bairns tae spiel". Characteristically emphasising melody - he was fond of espousing the paramount virtue of writing "a tune that enters the ear with ease, and leaves the memory with difficulty" - his suite of pieces for student level pianists borrow "tunes" from all over Delius' output, including his String Quartet, 2nd Violin Sonata, Brigg Fair, and Song of the High Hills, all condensed down into perfectly crafted miniatures - all piano pupils should be fortunate enough to have material of this quality to work with! Busoni’s proposal for a "new classical" approach to music could serve as a succinct description of van Dieren's approach to composition: “ ... the return to melody again as the ruler of all voices and all emotions [...] and as the bearer of the idea and the begetter of harmony, in short the most highly developed ... polyphony." Van Dieren was a contrapuntist of genius, and a master of melody, and these, along with his admiration for Busoni, made him irresistible to Stevenson, who became a leading authority on his music. Arguably the pinnacle of van Dieren's output is his remarkable cycle of six string quartets, worthy to stand alongside any of the 20th century (a bold, but not hyperbolic claim), and unaccountably still not recorded and almost never performed. Such is Stevenson’s skill in rendering the 35-minute, six-movement Fifth Quartet in terms of the piano that it emerges as the piano sonata that van Dieren didn’t write. The work is full of glorious melodies and counterpoint of the utmost sophistication, and includes a highly condensed, intense scherzo, which along with the finale contains music of considerable density and complex intricacy of texture but simultaneously of great lucidity and clarity; two ravishing slow movements, a tightly argued sonata-ish first movement; and a rapid-running intermezzo which in pianistic garb is reminiscent of similar movements by Sorabji (who was, not surprisingly, enthusiastic about van Dieren) and of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia. The song transcriptions highlight van Dieren’s melodic gift, especially the "somnambulant" (as Stevenson saw it) "Weep no more...", and his harmonic originality. By way of an encore, Stevenson’s achingly lovely harmonic realisation of Purcell’s The Queen's Dolour – A Farewell, from Dido and Anaeas. Christopher Guild (piano).