Of course there’s no way a Stevenson sampler wouldn’t be a richly textured sprawl. If you’re unfamiliar with Stevenson’s best known opus, Passacaglia on DSCH , you’re well advised to investigate it now. In these three discs (71:12 + 70:28 + 74:55) recorded across various sessions in 2009-10, McLachlan explores works ranging from virtuosic to vignettes a student could master. Like preceding composer-pianist virtuosos Busoni and Godowski, Stevenson freely reformulates music which has come before. McLachlan makes the nearly impossible Chopin elaborations sound easy.
There are varied arrangements of Bach and Mozart, mightily elaborated paraphrases of John Bull, Purcell (including jazz variations), Chopin and Glazunov, latter-day popular song arrangements (Rachmaninoff, Coleridge-Taylor, Ivor Novello, Sigmund Romberg, et al.), a canonic treatment of the big themes from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus in turn reflecting Moritz Rosenthal’s Carnaval de Vienne , a two-hand arrangement of Busoni’s two-piano transcription of Mozart’s Fantasy for mechanical organ, K. 608 , and so on.
The second disc provides the largest offering, a concerto for solo piano without orchestra, Le festin d’Alkan (1997), which looks at Alkan in three ways: fantasies inspired by Alkan, transcriptions and elaborations of Alkan, and the music of others Alkan played. Two Ysaÿe solo violin sonatas ( Nos. 1 and 2 ) have been transcribed for piano reflecting Stevenson’s absorption of Ysaÿe’s own Bach models. The sonatas, deep reimaginings in the Busoni vein, are far from their string originals. I find the Three Grounds , free transcriptions of Purcell, to be the most transfixing. Obviously, Purcell could never have written for the piano, yet Stevenson’s expansive melody placement and doubling works well.