RONALD STEVENSON (1928-2015): Piano Music, Vol. 3 - Sounding Strings, Chinese Folk-Song Suite, Ghanaian Folk-Song Suite, Bonny at Morn, The High Road to Linton, Barra Flyting Toccata, African Twi-Tune: the Bantu and Afrikaaner National Hymns Combined (all First Recordings), PERCY GRAINGER (1882-1961): Hill Song No. 1 (transcr. Stevenson).
Catalogue Number: 03U054
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0403
Description: The third disc in this valuable series focuses on Stevenson's close relationship with folksong (and its corollary, the influence of Grainger), and his very individual take on the concept of 'world music'. Sounding Strings is a collection of fourteen folk tunes representing all the Celtic nations (including Brittany), harmonised with Stevenson's inimitable harmonic sensitivity coupled with respect for the original (he was fond of [allegedly] quoting Grainger, political correctness being the strong suit of neither: "A folk song is like a country lass, you can dress her in all sorts of finery and she will be beautiful, but never forget that she is better naked.") The set was originally written with the clarsach, the Celtic small harp, in mind, but the score contains accommodations for the piano and the concert harp. In a fine example of Stevenson's originality, perfectly judging his sonic palette for the maximum expressive effect, two fleeting examples of 'extended' technique occur; a fist on the piano lid (or the harp's body) evokes a tambour in one Breton piece, and one Scottish. Drawn to folk idioms from all over the world (as exemplified on a large scale in his Second Piano Concerto and Violin Concerto, the latter expounding in music his theories of the migration of modes and instruments to the West from China) Stevenson produced pentatonic transcriptions of Chinese melodies, and rhythmic group-singing-like ones of tunes from Ghana. In keeping with Grainger's idea of 'musical democracy' - the tune shouldn't be in an 'elite' position at the top all the time - the melodies move around between different registers, producing a texture peculiar to Stevenson's, and Grainger's, transcriptive artistry. A 'twi-tune' - Grainger again - is two melodies in 'thematic symbiosis' (Stevenson); in this one he took delight in making the Afrikaaner and Bantu national anthems sing together, in a delicious nose-thumbing exercise at the apartheid regime, which he deplored. Rather ungenerously, the pianist fails to mention, in his otherwise excellent notes, that Stevenson recorded his transcription of Grainger's bracingly open-air evocation of the "soul-shaking hillscapes" of western Argyllshire, the largest and by a distance the most extravagantly virtuosic work here, himself, in the 1980s. The Hill Song, for wind ensemble, preferred by Grainger for the raucous "wildest and fiercest tone type" that suited his personality and his obsession with the outdoors, is transcribed masterfully by Stevenson, capturing the wildness of the original. Christopher Guild (piano).