Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015)
Piano Music Volume Six

Sonatina No.1 (1945)
Sonatina No. 2 (1947)
Sonatina No.3 (1948)
Retrospect (c.1945)
Three Nativity Pieces (1949)
Three Lyric Pieces (1947-1950)
Christopher Guild (piano)
rec. 2022, The Old Granary Studio, Toft Monks, Beccles, UK
Toccata Classics TOCC0662 [80]

Christopher Guild, the pianist in the sixth volume of Ronald Stevenson’s piano music, has performed a signal service, particularly for those of us who were lucky enough to meet the composer in his later years. One of my earliest memories of experiencing contemporary music on television was hearing Ronald as the piano soloist in one of his Piano Concertos. It had been recorded in the studio and was broadcast on BBC 2; something which would not happen today.

The music on this issue all dates from between 1945 and 1950 and offers fascinating insights into the composer’s development. A pupil of Richard Hall at the Royal Manchester College of Music, the tuition he received seems to have almost no impact upon him and Stevenson stands apart from his contemporaries, Alexander Goehr, Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies. Part of the reason was probably that, unlike the others, writing for the piano was an essential part of Stevenson’s work as a composer, as the relevant section of the list of his compositions attests.

At first glance it might appear that the programme is one of miniatures; nothing could be further from the truth. In particular, the three early Sonatinas make significant demands on the player’s technique and powers of interpretation. These are not juvenilia and indeed are prophetic, showing that, in terms of compositional technique, the die was already cast. This is despite the fact that each is quite different from the other. Christopher Guild is equal to all the demands of the music and his attention to detail in this sometimes elusive music is exemplary. Many of the pieces are short, but no lack of commitment is detected or a tendency to become routine in his approach. An excellent disc which should be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in British keyboard music.

Martyn Strachan

Previous review: John France (April 2023)

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