Ronald Stevenson: Piano Music,
Volume One: A Celtic Album
Christopher Guild, piano
Ronald Stevenson, the Scottish composer and pianist who died at the end of March at the age of 87, was, musically, proudly old-fashioned. (Even his old-fashionedness was old-fashioned: His touchstone of musical heresy was Igor Stravinsky.) Keeping faith with great 19th-century musical forebears — Franz Liszt, Ferruccio Busoni — Stevenson produced formidable, muscular works of unabashed Romanticism and, often, Herculean scope. (His most famous piece, the “Passacaglia on DSCH” — built on composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s four-note musical signature — includes three variation sets, a full Baroque suite, and a triple fugue among its 80 minutes of music.) But Stevenson’s music, with its conviction and forceful psychological undertow, plausibly bids for timelessness.
The Scottish pianist Christopher Guild inaugurates a new series of recordings of Stevenson’s works with a vividly played and recorded program centered on music derived from and influenced by folk songs, emphasizing Stevenson’s core melodic sense. The 1969 “South Uist Folksong Suite” gathers a series of polished sketches; 10 “Scottish Folk Music Settings” (written between 1956 and 1980) are more expansive, sometimes seeming to travel all the way from the Renaissance to a rueful 20th century in just a few verses. Other works are larger-scaled: “A Rosary of Variations on Seán Ó’Riada’s Irish Folk Mass,” dating from 1980, is a florid garland; “A Scottish Tryptich,” finished in 1967, weaves nifty tricks with the piano’s resonance (and interior) into its virtuosity. But even pieces for children — “A Wheen Tunes fae Bairs tae Spiel,” from 1964 — course with creativity. Stevenson’s music takes as raw material the long expanse of music history.
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.