RONALD STEVENSON (1928-2015): L’art nouveau du chant appliqué au piano, Romance (from Charpentier’s Louise), Suite from Paderewski’s “Manru”, Song Without Words, 9 Haïku.
Catalogue Number: 03V053
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0555
Description: Stevenson’s earliest musical influence was the singing of popular and folk- ballads of the day by his amateur tenor father, and singing - both literally (he composed over 200 songs) and in terms of his approach to the piano - was central to his compositional aesthetic, which makes this a particularly significant and revealing release for our greater understanding of this polymathic virtuoso of the keyboard. The three volumes of L’Art Nouveau du chant appliqué au piano, as the title suggests, pay tribute to, and extend into the 20th Century, the concept of Thalberg's set of transcriptions of songs and arias which extended and transcended accepted piano technique in regard to the representation of singing in particular and non-pianoforte textures and timbres in general. Stevenson's 12 numbers see him nailing his colors firmly to the mast in terms of the consummate importance of melody and the need to champion it with all available resources however unfashionable that may have been in the 1980s. He selected gorgeous melodies from opera and song - Meyerbeer, Rachmaninov, Coleridge-Taylor, and also Ivor Novello and Stephen Foster - and transcribes each with unerring characterization of its original medium; operatic arias get the full, full-blooded Romantic treatment, complete with orchestral effects; sentimental parlor songs are treated to the same respect as that accorded to folk songs by the great transcribers. Stevenson greatly admired Paderewski and vigorously defended his unfashionable, or even 'old-fashioned', style of playing; he was the pianist (qua pianist) for whom Stevenson felt the most affinity (perhaps surprisingly in view of his status as pre-eminent Busoni pianist of our time). The notes tell us that "there was a striking physical resemblance between the two". Indeed there was, and Stevenson accentuated it adopting a mustache and goatee in emulation of his hero; unfortunately when he augmented this with a bohemian broad-brimmed hat, his pupils during his early teaching days in Edinburgh, working within a different frame of reference, dubbed him 'Buffalo Bill' after the similarly bewhiskered and attired showman of the old American West. The concert suite that Stevenson made of episodes from Paderewski's seldom performed opera of love and tragedy among the Gypsies of the Tatras continues the 19th century tradition of creating piano transcriptions for their own performance in order to promulgate stage music that the transcriber believed should be better known. The suite comprises four memorably tuneful numbers (Paderewski was always a distinguished melodist as his many piano miniatures invariably demonstrate, which certainly endeared him to Stevenson). The work is a fine example of Stevenson's skill in transcribing ungratefully orchestrally conceived music in terms of the piano, of which the ne plus ultra is his unlikely but highly effective rendering of the first movement of Mahler 10 (09M048). A Gypsy march is followed by a Gypsy song, a simpler folksong-like lullaby and an exuberant Krakowiak in which Stevenson uses every pianistic device of texture and harmony to suggest the playing of a rustic, earthy folk ensemble. The Haïku were settings of texts by Keith Bosley after the Japanese, written in 1971, that employ pentatonic and heptatonic scales to reflect the structure of Haiku (5 and 7 syllable lines), and transcribed in 2006, whereupon they took on a new identity in which they sound entirely like piano pieces, the vocal lines woven into the fabric. Momentary but unmistakable resonances of great solo piano works from the decades before and after - notably the Scottish Triptych, and Symphonic Elegy for Liszt - speak to the extraordinary sense of scale and profundity encapsulated in these tiny miniatures. Christopher Guild (piano).