RONALD STEVENSON (1928-2015): Piano Music, Vol. 1 - 4 Scottish Pieces, A Scottish Triptych, South Uist (Hebridean) Folk Song Suite, 10 Scottish Folk Music Settings, A Rosary of Variations on Seán Ó Riada's Irish Folk Mass.
Catalogue Number: 04Q073
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0272
Description: This fine and varied disc, volume one in a projected major survey of the prolific, endlessly inventive pianist-composer's music, gathers together works explicitly related to Scots tradition and culture. In so doing it demonstrates the composer's enormous range of inspiration and expressive resources. The Scottish Pieces are four little characteristically Scots forms, including a reel and the imitation of bagpipes; real children's pieces without compromise or condescension. The Scottish Triptych, three separate pieces united in tribute to three major figures in the twentieth century Scottish artistic renaissance - the major Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean, polarizing poetical polemicist Hugh MacDiarmid, and song composer Francis George Scott, whose wonderful songs Stevenson has elsewhere transcribed for solo piano. The triptych belies its modest dimensions by its extravagant fecundity of invention and compositional and technical virtuosity. The Hebridean folksong suite comprises seven short, Graingeresque transcriptions of folksongs from folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw's published collection, in texturally clear and uncomplicated arrangements that the composer describes as '... the music of a day in the life of an island woman ... against the background of sea, sky and land'. The Folk Music Settings are a published set drawn from a large series to which Stevenson has added over many decades, dedicated 'to the memory of Percy Grainger', a major influence on Stevenson, not only in matters of folk-song setting. The variety of ways in which Stevenson adorns these lovely traditional melodies is astonishing, the more so as in every case the tine emerges from the texture with songlike clarity. There are simple, modal settings, alongside rich, chromatic harmony along the Grieg-Grainger axis, but Stevenson's range of pianistic treatments extends further than that. Lisztian piano textures - of the restrained, crystalline sort - are present in gently evocative carillons, singing and nature sounds heard from afar through mountain valleys; there are evocations of clarsach and pipes. Some settings have ingenious counterpoints applied canonically to the melody; this sometimes seems closer to Stevenson's other mentor 'in absentia', Busoni, though again these canonic treatments never obscure the essential character of the songs. Like the Triptych, the Variations, which draw their material from the music of Séan O'Riada (1931-71), are endlessly inventive, treating the themes to episodes in Pibroch style, as richly harmonised folksong transcriptions with Lisztian embellishments and accompanying figuration, Alkanic chordal grandeur and motoric drive, and sudden, biting dissonance, shocking in the context of the largely modal vocabulary of the work. Christopher Guild (piano).