Edward Greenfield

This latest issue follows up Murray McLachlan’s recording of Ronald Stevenson’s most celebrated work, his monumental Passacaglia on DSCH , which has been claimed to be the longest single work for solo piano. These three well-filled CDs concentrate instead on a generous selection of the other solo piano music of this Scottish-based composer-pianist, most of it directly inspired by his favourite predecessors, JS Bach, Mozart and Chopin, all of them formidable executants.

The first CD opens with pieces inspired by Bach. The first CD opens with pieces inspired by Bach. The contrapuntal writing is angular but clear and purposeful, as it is too in the two volumes of what Stevenson calls L’art nouveau du chant appliqué au piano . Later on in the disc comes the intriguing Fugue on a Fragment of Chopin which like 10 other Chopin-inspired pieces, sounds nothing like Chopin but very much like Stevenson.

The second disc offers longer pieces, starting with Le festin d’Alkan which, echoing that eccentric master, he describes as a concerto for piano without orchestra. The first movement gets wilder and wilder, very much a fun piece, while the second is light, with repeated notes, beautifully articulated by McLachlan. The third movement opens with the hint of a march leading to fistfuls of wild chords. After that come two ingenious transcriptions of two of the six solo violin sonatas of Ysaÿe. Stevenson, in a burst of energy, transcribed all six, and one would like to hear more of them. Lastly come the aptly melancholy Norse Elegy and the Canonic Caprice on the ‘Carnival of Venice’, light and attractive, if phenomenally difficult for the player.

The third CD concentrates on pieces inspired by Mozart, Purcell and Elizabethan composers. It is good to have Stevenson’s realisation of Mozart’s Fantasy for mechanical organ, K608, wonderfully clear in its counterpoint. The transcription of the slow movement from Mozart’s D minor Piano Concerto, K466, seems less pointful, even though contrasts between solos and orchestral tuttis are made clear. Melody on a Ground of Glazunov leads to a sequence of pieces inspired by Purcell involving ground basses, including the fun piece Little Jazz Variations on Purcell’s ‘New Scotch Tune’ . Then there is a Hornpipe, again with jazzy syncopations that reminded me of John Ireland’s Ragamuffin . Then come The Queen’s Dolour , inspired by John Dowland, and Three Elizabethan Pieces after John Bull , ending with a spectacular showpiece to round off the whole collection.

McLachlan proves an impressive advocate, coping well with all the virtuoso demands, though the piano tone tends to be rather shallow and clangy. Not that that ever gets in the way of enjoyment of this important, groundbreaking issue celebrating the work of a composer too long neglected.

—GRAMOPHONE