Ronald Stevenson: Passacaglia on DSCH; Bax & Pizzetti Variations; etc.

Music of extraordinary range and power composed at the dawn of the Space Age, Ronald Stevenson’s Passacaglia on DSCH was long claimed as the biggest single stretch of music ever written for piano. It is a veritable world tour of styles as well as a single-minded exploration of its generating motif, and rising star James Willshire has the technique and vaulting ambition to match both the work’s grandeur and its immense wealth of detail. Willshire gave the 1955 Variations on a Theme of Pizzetti its belated concert premiere in 2012, while the later Fugue, Variations and Epilogue on a Theme by Arnold Bax crystallises Stevenson’s lifelong devotion to a Celtic aesthetic as well as his innovative approach to variation technique. A clutch of shorter works completes the picture, foregrounding aspects of Stevenson’s charm, wit and grace.

"The surprise is how charming his music can be, when it is not weighed down by his cleverness. He can slyly wrong-foot us with waltzes, or beguile with a serene homage...Bach is a constant presence, as is Stevenson's hero Busoni...It's hard to imagine this music better played: Willshire deserves a medal."

"Willshire's pianism often evokes Stevenson's own incisively sprung rhythms and sharp dynamic contrasts"

"Willshire rises brilliantly to the abundant technical challenges in writing of Busoni-like density and sometimes Prokofiev-like brutality."

"the magnificently quirky ambition and scale of the work are vividly conveyed, and its formidable technical hurdles effortlessly negotiated"

"A hugely successful and rewarding endeavour." ★★★★★

"All the works on this disc are stunningly played: the technical difficulties are overcome with boundless skill. Willshire is a tremendous advocate for Stevenson’s music."

"James Willshire's performance is magisterial, especially so in the severe, Baroque stylings of the third section. He's also fabulous at sustaining the tension in the long final Adagissimo barocco, the work closing with a solitary low D. Extraordinary music for the adventurous."

"[Willshire's] account of the Passacaglia has an evangelizing urgency, and his bouquet of first recordings means that this release will be a mandatory purchase...Very strongly recommended."

Producer: Paul Baxter
Release Date: 28 October 2013
Catalogue No: DCD34119
Total playing time: 1:40:39

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