British composer Ronald Stevenson claims that his 80-minute piano piece Passacaglia on DSCH is the longest continuous movement ever written for piano, and he may well be correct. Although it is played without a break, the piece is subdivided into three large sections and has 21 "movements." The piece is in fact a strict passacaglia, with its four-note theme continually repeated as a ground. The notes of the ground are the same ones Dmitry Shostakovich used in many of his own pieces, and Stevenson intended the piece to be an homage to the Russian master. Its scope and ambition can also be traced to Fantasia contrappuntistica by Ferruccio Busoni, who Stevenson greatly admired. Over the ground, Stevenson includes a remarkable variety of musical forms, including (among many others) sonata-allegro form, waltz, Baroque suite, nocturne, march, fanfare, variations, and a triple fugue, with its subjects derived from the ground itself, the notes B-A-C-H (B flat, A, C, B natural) and the chant Dies Irae. While such a disparate combination of forms (and idioms, ranging from strict Baroque counterpoint to rhapsodic Romanticism to contemporary extended techniques, such as playing inside the piano) might reasonably be expected to sound like a hodge-podge, Stevenson manages to convince the listener that this music does, in fact, fit together to make a coherent and satisfying whole. With so much variety, it's never boring, and it's an exemplar of compositional virtuosity as well as a virtuoso showpiece for the performer. In this recording made in 1964, just a year after its premiere, Stevenson plays it with staggering intensity, technical finesse, and expressive breadth. It should be of interest to fans of modern piano music who appreciate Shostakovich and Prokofiev, and who love a flashy show, besides. The sound is clean, with a good sense of presence.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Passacaglia on DSCH for piano|