Mike Wheeler, Derby Chamber Music: Colin Stone, Multi-Faith Centre, Derby University (12.1.2018)

Having visited Derby Chamber Music back in 2011 as a member of the London Mozart Trio, pianist Colin Stone returned as a solo performer with a programme of fascinating contrasts and comparisons.

Launching firmly into Beethoven's D minor Sonata, Op 31 No 2, he created a finely-judged balance between the grave rising arpeggios and the quick, nervy, fluttering figures at the start. In the celebrated recitative-like passage which Beethoven asks to be played with the sustaining pedal held down, Stone set off a hum of bell-like overtones. The grave, stately, sarabande that is the second movement was a mixture of poise and introspection, the downward shift of a semitone in the bass towards the end feeling as though the ground might open before your feet at any moment. The finale was edgily impetuous, though with an occasional loss of clarity but, most importantly, with a sense of issues still being grappled with. The precipitate descent at the end was allowed simply to run into the sand without undue point-making.

Similarly, in Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy, Stone didn't rush his fences, the stabbing chords having weight as well as energy. As the first movement moved into the second, Stone allowed the mood simply to shift without the point being underlined; passages of high-lying tracery for the right-hand glittered appealingly against their sombre background. The scherzo was both graceful and vehement in its own right, and Stone used it as an effective launch-pad into the finale. Did Schubert ever echo Beethoven's resolve to 'take Fate by the throat'? Stone's grit and determination in the fugue at least suggested the possibility.

After the interval, came the premiere of thirteen Preludes written for Stone last year by Welsh composer Robert Keeley. These inventive keyboard explorations occupy a place somewhere between Tippett's later sonatas and Ligeti's Etudes, and Stone handled their wide-ranging moods with aplomb, from the impish No 3, through the unsettled Fifth ' whose sustaining-pedal passage linked it to the Beethoven ' the calm No 8 and quizzically introspective Tenth, to the remote stillness of the last.

Rakhmaninov gave the Schubertian title Moments Musicaux to the six pieces, Op 16, in which his mature solo piano style finally crystallised. Stone had the measure of their blend of colour and movement. In the characteristically soulful No 1 there were more high flurries, cleanly articulated; the rich textures of No 2 never sounded over-dense; in the subdued No 3 there was a finely controlled ebb and flow of tension. After the surging, torrential fourth piece, here given plenty of heft, the gently barcarolle-like No 5 was the perfect response, while to end, Stone strongly projected the grandly sonorous final piece. Brahms' Intermezzo Op 117 No 1 wrapped things up in a gesture both sombre and tender.

Louis Blois, DSCH JOURNAL No. 33, reviews Shostakovich 24 Preludes and Fugues Big Ears BE005 (July 2010)

Here Stone serves up one of the most elegantly conceived sets of op. 87 since Vladimir Ashkenazy's acclaimed cycle of more than a decade ago. This is not to say that the two versions are in any way identical. Stone's interpretation stands apart from the drama and the moody evocations of Ashkenazy's with a more reserved tonal palette. A comparison of Ashkenazy's bold projection of Fugue No. 17 with Stone's gentler coaxing of the same material is sufficient to underscore the difference. With a patent avoidance of extremes, conceits, and capricious surges, Stone not only pursues a more contemplative vision of the work, but one marked by a more studied objectivity. Case in point: the innocent manner in which he sidesteps the tearful temptations of Prelude No. 4. The playing is scrubbed clean of the melancholic strains often found in other renditions. The accompanying fugue blossoms from a similarly undampened slate. Likewise in the strumming arpeggios in Prelude No. 5, the pianist opts for brisk clarity in contrast to the more dreamy expeditions of Jalbert and Bond, among others. As in the remaining preludes and fugues, Stone finds a poetry of tactile grace and interpretive purity that reveal the music's treasures in an appropriately lucid, pristine manner.

In light of this self-effacing approach, Wanda Landowska's well-known quip about interpreting Bach's music may be resuscitated, 'You play it your way, my dear, and I'll play it HIS way.' In fact, Stone's interpretations do not match up very strongly, at least in style, with the commercially available recordings of the composer's often technically imperfect performances. Just the same, every note in Stone's well-tempered interpretation seems to have been examined and rendered to perfection. One may admire the evenness of his touch in the smoothly spinning runs of Preludes Nos. 2 and 21, and in the velvety tones he elicits from Prelude and Fugue No. 17. At times some of Shostakovich's whimsical japing, as found in Prelude No. 8, can sound a little regulated, as do the contradictory taunts in Prelude No. 15. Yet it's in the architecture of the work that Stone shines. The four animated voices of Fugue No. 12 never compete for prominence but are rather cast into pellucid relief as the music steers to its peak. His Fugue No. 24 is exquisitely realised, its accelerando played with gradually escalating lines of tension that build with consummate symphonic majesty and breadth. In another monumental entry, Fugue No 8, Stone keeps power in reserve as he lays bare the world-weariness of its doggedly insistent theme. Stone's one indulgence, if one may call it that, it is the very broad tempo he takes in Fugue No. 1 (timing at 4:53), apparently taking after David Jalbert's even more extended traversal (at 5:10).

One of the strong points of Stone's reading is his ability to underline the individual voices of the fugues with the utmost transparency. He brings out the gentle phrases of the five-voiced Fugue No. 13 with consummate grace, and likewise teases apart the four tenacious voices of Fugue No. 6 with peerless clarity. The two minutes of chromatic fury raised in the four-voiced Fugue No. 15 merit particular notice. What a difference eight or nine seconds make in the interpretation of this twistiest, most denselypacked of the set. Some will find Jenny Lin's (2:09) steel-girdered version cautious to a fault. Kori Bond (2:00) starts off well but then flails helplessly amid the choppy waters; while David Jalbert's hurtling cyclone of notes (1:42) leaves the listener dazzled, if somewhat gasping for breath. In his version Stone (1:50) seems to have found just the right balance between speed, spontaneity, and clear articulation. His is as triumphant a performance of the fugue as we've heard since Ashkenazy's astonishingly brisk version (1:46).

Some may prefer a more idiosyncratic approach to the Preludes and Fugues. In wiping the slate clean of pre-established notions, Stone enables the listener to hear the work anew and unsullied—meticulously wrought by a musical intelligence that is by no means devoid of spontaneity and passion. Stone offers his listeners an exquisitely sculpted, beautifully controlled rendition that finds a distinguished place in the recording canon. The intimate acoustic of the recording is well matched to the subtle focus of the interpretation. Stone's perceptive liner notes are also well matched to his musical insights.

Read the full review on DSCH Journal.

JD, Classic FM Magazine, reviews Shostakovich 24 Preludes and Fugues Big Ears BE005 (March 2010)

Shostakovich wrote his Preludes and Fugues in 1950 after the models of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and the key scheme of Chopin's 24 Preludes, largely inspired by the playing of Tatyana Nikolaeva. Colin Stone plays them with tremendous beauty, affection and a sort of self-effacing brilliance: technically dazzling pieces such as the A minor Prelude have plenty of rapidity and glitter, yet without any hard edges or showoff brashness. Instead, his playing is sensible, well-reasoned and engaging; it's like listening to a fascinating discussion between the fugal voices about what Bach and Chopin really meant to the troubled Russian genius.

Jens F. Laurson, Musicweb-international.com, reviews Shostakovich 24 Preludes and Fugues Big Ears BE005 (February 2010)

Colin Stone's is a remarkable achievement. His release can hold its own next to Scherbakov and Ashkenazy. Read more.

Graeme Kay, International Piano, reviews Shostakovich 24 Preludes and Fugues Big Ears BE005 (January 2010)

The music needs to be delivered with commitment, sensitivity to the architecture and the often opaque emotions, and … love: this it receives from Colin Stone. Most listeners make a journey in their appreciation of Shostakovich, and as time passes since the composer's death, the music continues to emerge in new light. Stone is an artist who moves us forward along the path towards the emerging truth of his finely wrought music.

Jelena Martinovic Bogojevic, MusicWeb International, reviews the Music Festival Esspresivo in Cetinje, Montenegro (August 2009)

See Pobjeda (in Croatian).

Christopher Howell, MusicWeb International, reviews Dmitri Shostakovich Five Preludes (1920-1921) Olympia OCD 574 (June 2002)

See MusicWeb International.

Kenneth Carter and Kevin Rogers, www.classicalsource.com review several performances at The Red Hedgehog, 255-257 Archway Road, Highgate, London N6 5BS

See Classical Source.

Sugi Sorensen, Prokofiev.org, reviews SCENA—Theatre Music of Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953) United 88028 (March 2001)

One of the many jobs as Editor of Prokofiev.org is cataloging the hundreds of recordings of Prokofiev's music. I invariably wind up listening to many of these recordings -- my personal collection at present numbers over 200 CDs. And one of the great pleasures as Editor is discovering obscure recordings by obscure artists on obscure labels that seize you with their brilliance. Such was the case with this album by British pianist Colin Stone.

The CD shines like a brilliant diamond in an expansive field of distinguished Prokofiev recordings. That is high praise given this hallowed ground has been plowed over and over by titans of the keyboard like Richter, Gilels, Sofronitsky, Neuhaus, and Argerich. Admittedly not an unknown artist in the UK, Colin Stone is unknown on this side of the pond. And Americans are poorer because of it. Stone won the Royal Over-Seas League Piano Competition in 1986 and has a distinguished although not overwhelming career in Europe.

This was Stone's first recorded album. Its central theme is piano transcriptions of Prokofiev's theater music. With the first number from the Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op 75 what strikes the listener is how the pianist understands both the essence of Prokofiev's ballet music and his entire oeuvre as well. Stone's tonal palette is as expansive as an orchestra's. One immediately forgets we are listening to a single instrument. Attention is instantly drawn to the emotional content of the music. These are Prokofiev piano transcriptions at their best. Too often, artists use these works as a virtuoso vehicle—to display their blazing technique, often forgetting the meaning of the music. Stone does not. He is no virtuoso. Or at least he hides it. Although possessed of an assured technique, Stone instead shows he is a master of understanding and conveying Prokofiev's broad emotional palette. His tempi are brisk, but never excessive, and his rubato used sparingly and for perfect effect, never in excess as too many others display in these works (Argerich and Gavrilov but two examples in the Op 75.) Another strength of Stone is his expert control of Prokofiev's intricate rhythms and inner voicings in the selections from the Six Transcriptions, Op 52.

Great performances of Prokofiev's ballet transcriptions evoke the splendor of the staged ballet performance, equal an orchestra in the power of transmitted sound, and the greatest of them reveal the emotional ebb and flow of the literary characters. Such is the nature of Stone's Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. As brilliant are the Contredanse and Mephisto Waltz from Prokofiev's aborted film score to Gendelstein's Biography of Lermontov. The March and Scherzo from the opera Love for Three Oranges may not possess the sheer visceral energy of Gilels, but they are majestic and masterful nevertheless.

In short, this disc cannot be recommended highly enough. One is left wondering how magnificent the complete ballets would sound if played by an Orchestra under Stone's baton.

See also Prokofiev.org.

Don Satz, Classical Net, reviews Dmitri Shostakovich Five Preludes (1920-1921) Olympia OCD 574 (September 1995?)

See Classical Net.