Review – ‘… Stevenson’s passionately eloquent approach…’

CD Review by Patrick Rucker

LISZT Années de pèlerinage: Deuxième Année, Italie (complete). Première Année: Au la de Wallenstadt; Au bord d’une source. Troisième Année: Les Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este • Christine Stevenson (pn) • RFZ 69301 (67:56)

To the many fine recordings of individual books of Années de pèlerinage that have appeared over the past year or so, the Australian pianist Christine Stevenson has contributed a complete Book 2, along with three water-themed pieces from Books 1 and 3. Stevenson’s scrupulous observation of the subtlest indications in Liszt’s score, combined with a heightened sensitivity to his voice-leading, allows her to point up many details that often go unnoticed. Sposalizio and Il Penseroso, those responses to Raphael and Michelangelo respectively, have cohesion and sweep, everywhere tinged with poetry. The Canzonetta del Salvatore Rosa is taken a bit slower than customary, though it maintains a jaunty swagger consistent with its Andante marziale marking and never drags. Stevenson’s passionately eloquent approach to the three Petrarch Sonnets is especially persuasive. In all three, she displays a fine feel for the melodies’ Italianate inflections, while realizing all the implications of their rich harmonic underpinning. The delicately fluid tempi rubati seem to grow organically from Petrarch’s texts.

Stevenson’s technique is equal to the formidable demands of Après une Lecture de Dante, the largest of the Années’ 26 pieces both structurally and technically. Here as elsewhere, Stevenson’s interpretive choices seem entirely her own, partaking refreshingly little of received wisdom. Drama might have been heightened by allowing greater space to the recitative passages that punctuate the score. Conceptually speaking, however, this Dante Sonata is always thoughtful, proportionate, and never less than effective. Unfortunately, it is also the piece that suffers most from the recording’s chief drawback, a boxed-in and artificial piano sound. It is difficult to know whether to blame the room, poor microphone placement, or indifferent engineering. One never escapes the impression that Stevenson’s full color palette and dynamic spectrum are not adequately portrayed. Fortunately, her artistic execution and the strength of her musical ideas come very near to disguising this flaw. Listening to her noble interpretation of the Jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este, for instance, one is likely to forget it entirely. Patrick Rucker


This article originally appeared in Issue 35:3 (Jan/Feb 2012) of Fanfare Magazine.

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