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Review of Neil Gow Festival concert from Jamie Jauncey

Item posted: Monday 23rd May , 2005

Between the ages of ten and eighteen, Anna-Wendy Stevenson went every weekend to visit her grandfather, the pianist, composer and music scholar, Ronald Stevenson. She took her violin and every weekend they played together.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in March 2005, nearly twenty-five years after the start of that special relationship, it finally bore fruit in a recital at the Dunkeld Hilton on the banks of the Tay, as part of Pete Clark's second Niel Gow Festival.

For an enchanting and intimate hour, the audience eavesdropped on a grandfather and granddaughter playing through a well-loved repertoire together - an event possibly unprecedented since the time of Bach, as Ronald joked.

The theme was the Scots tradition of song, poetry and tune, a major source of inspiration for Ronald Stevenson throughout his long career, and one to which Anna-Wendy returned eight years ago after swapping her early career as a classical pianist for that of traditional fiddle player.

From the music of Gow himself and his near contemporary Robert MacIntosh, through the folksongs of South Uist, to the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid (Ae Gowden Lyric), Ronald's arrangements and original compositions were alternately humorous and playful, impassioned and lyrical. These moods were perfectly echoed by Anna-Wendy's beautifully articulated and sensitive playing.

The South Uist Folksong Suite which Ronald dedicated to Margaret Fay Shaw, the folklorist and song collector who died only last year, was particularly entertaining. Describing themes from island life such as spinning, waulking (preparing the wool) and witching the cows for milking, his whimsical accompaniments were constructed entirely from phrases of the melody played out of sequence to give the pieces an almost Escher-like sense of perspective.

He also gave a solo recital of Grieg's , to show how at any time traditional tunes and songs can make their way into the most sophisticated contemporary compositions. Here the accompanist became the virtuoso and we were given a brief glimpse of the full breadth and power of Ronald's playing.

At the piano Ronald beamed and twinkled with pride as Anna-Wendy coaxed ripples of magic from her fiddle, and directly across the river on the opposite bank, the ghost of Gow doubtless shed a silent tear beneath his favourite tree.

Jamie Jauncey
31 March 2005