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Full Circle

Royal College of Music
02/23/1999 -  

Ronald Stevenson Dedication, Master and Pupil, Spring from Nine Haiku
Andrew Locke Nicholson (tenor), Jo Burleigh (harp)
Factory and field, It's Nonsense from Factory and Field
Mark Wood (baritone)
Bergstimmung for horn and piano (1985)
Oliver Green (horn), Charles Wiffen (piano)
The Source from Two Tagore Songs
Hannah Garner (soprano), Michael Mizgailo-Cayton (piano)
Rain, Summer Sun from A Child's Garden of Verses
Nicholas Watts (tenor), Muriel Phillips (piano)
Blows the wind today, I saw rain falling from Hills of Home
Leandros Taliotis (baritone), Michael Mizgailo-Cayton (piano)
Recitative and Air in Memorian Shostakovich for viola and piano (1976)
Linda Fredriksson (viola), Charles Wiffen (piano)
Dedication, When the golden day is done from A Child's Garden of Verses
Laura Mitchell (soprano), Alistair Beatson (piano)
Fantasy Quartet: Alma Alba (1985)
Nathaniel Vallois (violin), Linda Fredriksson (viola), Liam Abramson (cello), Charles Wiffen (piano)

Ronald Stevenson's seventieth birthday celebration concert at the Royal College of Music provided a brief and delightful introduction to an apparently traditional but fascinatingly inventive composer. The concert closed an afternoon of seminars on topics dear to Stevenson, including Busoni, a surprising influence. Stevenson claims Grainger as his other major model. This is less surprising on the evidence of this selection of songs inspired by folk melodies, often pentatonic or modal, with demanding, rich piano accompaniments.

The programme was impressively performed by students of the college. They all seemed to be enjoying Stevenson's precise word setting and rewarding but not obvious melodies. Hannah Garner delivered the philosophical detachment of the music of The Source,  rather than the potential sentimentality of the lyric about the sweetness of babies. Leandros Taliotis gave a fine performance of two lugubrious modal songs from The Hills of Home, splitting a couple of notes but on the whole singing beautifully and getting the sense and mood over coherently.

Nicholas Watts and Laura Mitchell both found moving simplicity in the De la Mare settings from A Child's Garden of Verses. Michael Mizgailo-Cayton accompanied all of these singers (except Mitchell, who was ably accompanied by Alistair Beatson) with outstanding skill, delivering the diverse effects of the piano part without any hint of their difficulty. This was particularly striking in Rain, where the piano imitates the random rhythm of a downpour. Mizgailo-Cayton made it sound almost natural, and not at all obvious or flashy.

In a late addition to the programme, with an uncredited accompanist, Mark Wood sang the two McDiarmid settings with character and humour, and nearly consistent pronunciation of the dialect. These two songs use folk-song-like forms for tough ideas, typically of Stevenson's work.

Bergstimmung, the horn and piano duet, also evokes traditional idioms (as anyone whose Sunday morning sleep has been wrecked by Alpenhorns can testify). The final Fantasy Quartet starts from Scottish and other dance forms and retains their exuberance, but has an abrasive texture and explores tonality in stimulatingly disruptive ways. It would have been interesting to have more similar pieces on the programme. But of course it was a celebration, and Stevenson's songs are a source of pure joy.

H.E. Elsom



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