Ronald Stevenson (born 1928) has been one of the foremost exponents of the art of transcription in the British Isles for over fifty years. In addition to his original compositions (which include the huge eighty-minute Passacaglia on DSCH
and the choral symphony Ben Dorain
) he has made piano versions of works by a huge range of composers from John Bull to Alban Berg. His version of Komm, süsser Tod
BWV478 (the same chorale as set by Frank Bridge for Harriet Cohen’s Bach Book
), dates from April 1991. It is, however, a transcription at one remove: for Stevenson has here made a solo piano version not from Bach’s original but of the orchestral arrangement by Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski himself said of his version that he had ‘tried to imagine what Bach would do had he had the rich resources of the orchestra of today at his disposal’. In re-imagining Stokowski’s orchestral textures for the keyboard Stevenson makes use of a rich palette of piano colour, especially in the middle and bass registers, and a subtle use of pedalling. He also had in mind Stokowski’s performance of the piece. The basic tempo is immensely slow, much slower than in the Frank Bridge version (a comparison of the two settings is fascinating). The surging, authoritative arpeggio writing at the climax makes clear that this is, above all, piano music. The final, heavenward-ascending gesture is Stokowski’s addition to Bach, newly given pianistic form by Stevenson.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010