Florian Uhlig

Bernard Stevens: Works for Piano

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While the musical establishment of the mid-twentieth century focused its attention on the most controversial composers of the avant-garde, British composer Bernard Stevens quietly pursued a much more conservative course that brought him little fame and less fortune. However, time has brought Stevens some posthumous recognition; though his works are not firmly established in the repertoire, recordings of his music are on the rise, suggesting that his reputation will eventually be secured. Stylistically, the keyboard pieces on this double disc from Dutton are quite hard to pin down, because Stevens usually composed without intentionally following schools or imitating fashions; yet of any identifiable models, he most closely resembles Hindemith in his workmanlike counterpoint, rugged harmonies, and pragmatic, cerebral treatment of classical forms. In this regard, some listeners will find the substantial compositions of the first disc to be coherent and well crafted, though also a bit dry and academic; despite Florian Uhlig's sensitive playing, they may seem somewhat uniform in their textures and unimaginative in their timbres. Disc 2, though, is more varied and colorful, since these shorter pieces for solo piano, piano four hands, and two pianos are a mix of contrapuntal studies à la Bach and buoyant character pieces, capably played by pianist Michael Finnissy and the duet of Isabel Beyer and Harvey Dagul. The major work at the conclusion is the Concertante for two pianos, Stevens' last composition, which is the most compelling of all in its strikingly dissonant harmonies, brooding melodies, and dark expressions -- quite a change from the majority of the program. The performances throughout are cleanly recorded in Dutton's 24-bit sound, with realistic presence and crisp details.

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