Misterstourworm And The Kelpie’s Gift

Misterstourworm And The Kelpie’s Gift ****
The ScotsmancdMisterstourworm

As a performer, Scottish harpist Savourna Stevenson crosses many musical boundaries. As a composer, that eclecticism informs a delicious little “musical adventure” called Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift, which she claims is the first such narrated piece since Prokefiev’s Peter and the Wolf. That’s debatable, but the bottom line is this: it is a delightful work, narrated here by actor Billy Boyd, sung by the National Youth Choir of Scotland Edinburgh branch and the RSNO Junior Chorus, with the Scottish Opera Orchestra under Christopher Bell’s direction. Add to that some other songs by Stevenson and a colourfully illustrated booklet, and the package is just the ticket for young children who like a good tale well told.

Kenneth Walton

Misterstourworm And The Kelpie’s Gift ****
The Herald

BILLING itself as the first narrated children’s symphony since Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf in 1936, this project is the result of a 2001 Creative Scotland award to Scottish harpist Savourna Stevenson. Also involved are playwright Stuart Paterson, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, the RSNO Junior Chorus, the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and Lord Of The Rings star Billy Boyd.
It’s a myth set in the Western Isles featuring a brave young man called Coran, who sets out to rid his land of vicious sea monster Misterstourworm. Boyd narrates, the choirs sing and a seven-movement orchestral suite also fits into the bargain.
The 40-minute CD won’t overtax the attention span of the average eight-year-old, but for a real thrill, there will be a live performance at the Skateraw Foundation, East Lothian, at 2.30pm tomorrow.

Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift
The List

Back in 2003, Billy Boyd was a well kent face in Scottish theatre but the world had yet to know his name. At that point, composer Savourna Stevenson and writer Stuart Paterson secured Boyd’s services to narrate their new orchestral project, Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift. A year later, Boyd’s performance in Lord of the Rings raised his profile considerably. But his commitment to this magical, yet relatively small-scale, Scottish project was not diminished. Not only did Boyd agree to record the Misterstourworm CD, but he’ll also appear at the launch concert at Skateraw, Dunbar on 9 June.
‘My only reservation was whether I could commit to the date,’ says Boyd. ‘Not for the recording, but the live show. To work your whole year around one day in June is difficult. But because I’ve been so involved in this from the start, I just thought I’m gonna do it, we’ll work it out.’ Beautifully packaged, with dramatic illustrations by Martin McKenna, the CD is a wonderful introduction to classical music for children of all ages. Based on the mythical tale of a brave young man who fights the vicious Stourworm, the story is bold and exciting.
‘You’ve got to tip your hat to Stuart,’ says Boyd. ‘Whatever medium you work in, whether it’s radio, film, whatever, if you’ve got the right words to say it becomes a lot easier. Good writing should always be your starting point and then you add to it what you can.’ Stevenson’s score is a sweeping, dramatic affair which plunges from gentle melodies into moments of fast-paced intensity. With Boyd’s narration matching her music all the way.
‘I just loved it,’ says Boyd of his recording experience. ‘I had my headphones on and was loving the music, and just got carried away with the story, it’s so exciting.’

Kelly Aptor

Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift – CD review
Bachtrack (www.bachtrack.com)

For the past 70 years the most recent music and narrative composed specifically for children was Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf in 1936 written for his own children. Finally there is something new and modern for children to listen to, which might just open the world of classical music for them. Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift is a very exciting recording of a work composed by Savourna Stevenson in 2003 and performed once that year. It brings together the Orchestra of Scottish Opera with narrative by Stuart Paterson and offers a blend of sweetness and darkness that turn the best fairy tales into favourites. Flute and harp create a magical harmony evoking faeries and stardust, while the frightening power of the monster come through strongly through the deep brass instruments.
Actor Billy Boyd (Pippin in Lord of the Rings) narrates the tale beautifully, heightening the tension of the fight between good and evil. His words come across clearly, at just the right level to enable listeners to enjoy both the story and the music. The CD first offers the narrative version of the tale, then the music without the words. The little book, into which the CD is cleverly fitted, provides the story, beautifully illustrated, so children can read it for themselves while the music is playing.
There are a bonus three songs on the CD, including a lullaby, and a wonderful, powerful song “Bullies” which reworks the nursery rhyme “Mary, Mary” to tremendous effect.
When my 13 year old daughter heard Misterstourworm and the Kelpie’s Gift for the first time, she was transfixed by the connection between narrative and music.
This is a treat for everyone to enjoy, and the most wonderful part is that the music grows on you, the more you hear it. The story also comes through more clearly when you get to know the music, so I recommend you listen to it several times over a few weeks, to turn it into a family favourite. It provides a glorious experience for children and grown ups alike.

Jeremy Nicholas

The Gramophone 2007

Savourna Stevenson should be rightly proud of this vivid and atmospheric score with its network of themes and motifs that develop with the story. It works as an independent piece without the narration and indeed is heard as such at the end of the CD after three Stevenson songs performed by two Scottish youth choirs. Billy Boyd ( Pippin in Lord of the Rings ) is the excellent derring-do narrator … conductor Christopher Bell does it proud, as does the engineer …

Touch me like the Sun


‘Emily’s Calling’ speaks eloquently of Stevenson’s remarkable ability with the harp, impressionistically summoning up her ‘sparkling daughter’. Eddi Reader sings the title track and there is a brilliantly conceived suite in three movements for string quartet ( on which she is joined by violins, viola and cello ). On the solo ‘Blue Orchid’ ( a tune that sounds like it might sit easily in the ‘Kind of Blue’ canon of Miles Davies ) the lively cascading notes of the harp evoke tonalities normally associated with the lute, banjo or Japanese koto. In a class of its own…

Calman The Dove

The Scotsman

Calman the Dove
Cooking Vinyl, *****

Specially commissioned, for performance in Iona Abbey, to commemorate the St Columba anniversary, Savourna Stevenson has delivered a musical gem that features not only her fluent, jazz-tinged harp but also the moody whistle and stunning uillean pipes of Davy Spillane and the edgy, gipsy-like fiddle of Anne Wood.
The thrilling bustle of the opening track, Calman the Wolf, with Spillane pouring out notes, gives way to the slow mesmeric beauty of The White Swan – a lovely track – and then some sparkling solo harp in An Buachaille before the three musicians settle into a sustained exploration of Stevenson’s varied themes, spattered with spicy Charlie Parkerish chord changes. Delightful stuff.

Singing the Storm

TIMES ( Canada )

Some subtle, mature work by top performers

Singing The Storm
Savourna Stevenson / June Tabor / Danny Thompson

On this exquisite collaboration, British folk diva June Tabor joins forces with harpist-composer Savourna Stevenson and legendary bassist Danny Thompson.
Stevenson has produced a collection of dreamy landscapes for Tabor’s husky haunting vocals. Grounded by Thompson’s jazz-influenced, understated bass – besides co-founding Pentangle and performing regularly with Richard Thompson, the bassist has also worked with jazz great Sonny Rollins – the songs on Singing the Storm flow suite-like through poetic tales of funeral bakers, enchanted landscapes, witches, and gypsy queens, Stevenson’s glorious, romantic music is matched with elegant, finely wrought narratives and brought to life by Tabor’s dark, spooky readings as she inhabits the songs with a smouldering passion.
This CD will move and inspire you. Brilliant, beautiful new folk music. My highest recommendation.


The Scotsman

Savourna Stevenson
Tusitala, teller of tales

Savourna Stevenson’s new CD, Tusitala ( Eclectic Records ) features Savourna’s music for Stevenson’s Travels, the BBC production on the Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, and serves as confirmation that in compiling and arranging these beguiling themes she rose triumphantly to what must have been a fairly daunting challenge. It’s a lovely album, full of delightful, bobbing, swaying tunes that appropriately bridge the Atlantic gap by the skilful melding of jazz and Scots motifs. The Clyde to California sequence, originally commissioned by the River Tweed Festival, finds Aly Bain gusting in splendid style – the thrilling fiddle dash in Silverado Squatters and his legato calm above the rhythmic storm of Clyde to Sandy Hook surely capture the essence of the composer’s compulsive juggling with the elements of tension and release.

Anne wood, also on fiddle, has a marvellous time in Jekll and Hyde, her jaggy, slithery contrasts giving a clear sighting of Dr J’s little secret. Steve Kettley’s grumpy, Archie Shepp-ish tenor sax in Treasure Island and his sumptuous soprano sax work in La Solitude are other highlights in a sparkling album.

Oh, and Savourna’s harp is as captivating as ever!

Cutting the Chord


by Keith Hudson

Savourna Stevenson
Cutting the Chord
Eclectic ECL CD 9308

Any lingering doubts about the role of the harp in modern music must, surely, be dispelled by this magnificent piece of work. Scotland’s Savourna Stevenson has always been an adventurous boundary-breaker, but with this performance of her own compositions, written to commemorate the bi-centenary of the Belfast Harp Gathering on 1792, she establishes entirely new parameters for the instrument, while still maintaining a healthy respect for age-old traditions.

Adding their own touches of genius are Irish harpist Aine Ni Dhuill, ubiquitous double bass guru, Danny Thompson, and percussion expert, Jim Sutherland. The latter is also responsible for eerie, and enormously affective, wind sounds ( how he does it is open to speculation ) notably on the aptly titled Aeolian.

It’s one of two pieces that owe a big debt to the Scots/Irish baroque harping tradition, the other being Harplands in which O’Carolan and Rory Dall Morrision are transported into the minimalist realms of the West African kora, before adopting the characteristic decorative devices of South American. Basse Breton Rhapsody is a freer, jazz improvised piece, the title track is sublimely atmospheric and, rounding things off, is a quirky 10/8 blues.

If you think Scotland’s strongest intoxicant is a good highland malt, try this. Sip it slowly and savour every drop!

Tweed Journey

The Scotsman

Plucking suite themes from the river

Alastair Clark swings along the Tweed on a musical journey made memorable by a Borders harpist

Savourna Stevenson’s Tweed Journey is a jazz-folk hybrid that really should be reviewed somewhere between Tony Troon’s jazz page and me. But, as you can see, there’s not much space there – certainly not enough for someone who can make the harp sing and swing in the way that Savourna does. So, she has got my space, and that suits me fine.
Tweed Journey is an original suite commissioned from the Border harpist by a formidable team that includes Judy Steel, the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Borders Council. It made it’s first appearance at the end of last year in a novel series of concerts at seven venues that followed the full course of the river from source to sea.
Just as the river itself swells as the tributaries make their contributions, so the suite demands a steadily increasing flow of instrumentation. While the opening concert, at Tweedsmuir, had Savourna playing solo, by the time the suite had reached Berwick she had six musicians with her.
The opening track of Tweed Journey should be enough to persuade the most wary listener that a treat is in store. This section, The Source, is a delicious, bubbling harp solo that sets the scene for what is in my view the finest track of all – ‘Fording the Tweed’, where Savourna is joined by Neil Hay on fretless bass for a fast, tinkling run through a delightful jazz theme which is full of sparkling freshness and buoyancy.
Savourna Stevenson, like the American harp player, Deborah Henson-Conant, tends to look for her jazz-waves in the ebb and flow of modal themes, and as the suite builds up through the bluesy ‘Waulk’, the enchanting ‘Lost Bells’ and the spritely ‘Trows’, where the saxophonist, Dick Lee, in commanding form, makes his first appearance, the themes become more insistent.
‘Forest Flowers’ is greatly enlivened by a tremendous, pummelling hand-drum solo by Jim Sutherland, and the introduction of a variation on the ‘Flowers o’ the Forest’ lament ( like the suggestions of ‘Broom of Cowdenknowes’ earlier ) is superbly fashioned. The suites closing piece is worth waiting for too. There’s some interesting, grumpy doodling on the bass clarinet by Dick Lee and an assertive, sweeping guitar solo by Graham Muir.
But the dominant instrumental contribution throughout comes from the harp of Savourna Stevenson. She seems to develop into a more adventurous and more skilful performer with each hearing, and here shows how she can be comfortable, persuasive and interesting in a musical territory that few rivals have explored…

Tickled Pink


Clarsach swings across some new frontiers
By Alastair Clark

I enthused – necessarily briefly – over Springthyme Record’s ‘Tickled Pink’, featuring Savourna Stevenson, in my best-of-the-year selection a fortnight ago. Frequent listening have done absolutely nothing to alter my view that this is a superb clarsach album, worth anybody’s money – one in which an ancient instrument is thrillingly coaxed towards and across new musical frontiers.

Savourna Stevenson has presented not only arrangements of traditional tunes but also a number of her own compositions, and it is these, borne on the wings of enviable technical dexterity and outstanding musicianship, that provide the most memorable moments. Her ‘Lament for a Blind Harper’ where fiddler Aly Bain makes one of several knowing and telling contributions, is quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have heard in the past year.

Her ‘Jalan’, a deliciously bright, prancing tune in which she makes full use of her particular penchant for ebb-and-flow and light-and-shade contrast, is a joy from start to finish. And her ‘Tickled Pink’ is a waterfall of sweet, swinging sound.

Miss Stevenson also takes smoothly in her stride a testing array of traditional music, ranging from slow Scots airs to Irish jigs. She clearly finds that fast dance music holds no technical terrors: the fingers fly, and the music ripples along as if she were tinkering with a toy mandolin. Great Stuff…