Kenneth Hamilton Plays Ronald Stevenson, Vol. 2

Kenneth Hamilton

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Kenneth Hamilton Plays Ronald Stevenson, Vol. 2 Review

by James Manheim

Pianist Kenneth Hamilton has championed the music of his teacher, composer Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015), and his first release of Stevenson's music (Kenneth Hamilton Plays Ronald Stevenson, Vol. 1) gained widespread attention in Germany and North America as well as in Britain. Stevenson's music uses stylistic elements from the past, and his music fell into disfavor with the modernist claque. In Hamilton's hands, however, it's clear that there's not a bit of nostalgia or neo-Romanticism in Stevenson's music. Yes, he refers to composers of the past, from Purcell to Shostakovich, but that range itself should show you that Stevenson has not simply found a comfortable niche and inhabited it. He's been called the Liszt of Scotland, but Busoni, or even Bartók, would be a closer comparison. The latter name is relevant to the program here, which involves various uses of Scottish folk music. Sample the fascinating little Barra Flyting Toccata (a "flyting" is a rhyming competition, in this case, one held in Barra), where the rhythm constantly shifts. There are also jazz variations on Purcell, a "Threepenny Sonatina" that is unlike any other composer's use of popular music, a Shostakovich paraphrase, a Busonian chorale fantasy, Stravinskian treatments of Purcell, and more, ranging from fully tonal to considerably dissonant. By the time it's done, you will find yourself wondering just how much more music there is to write in older styles; Stevenson seems to open up a vast new range of possibilities. His student's performances may be taken as definitive for now.

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