Weird Programming And Fine Playing From Stephen Beus

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

The third release from pianist Stephen Beus on the Centaur label offers a quirky playlist for which the topic of dance purports to be the unifying agent. The program intersperses movements from a Bach English Suite and a Partita with Mozart’s Duport Variations and Ravel’s Pavane, and is bookended by two substantial Bach works in transcription. Certain juxtapositions fascinate, such as how Beus slips into the Ravel directly from the Bach E minor Partita Sarabande. By contrast, the Bach suite and partita movements frame the Mozart variations to relatively incongruous effect. Then again, if you don’t care for Beus’ programming agenda, you can download or stream the individual works.

Beus sectionalizes the Bach/Busoni Chaconne into virtuoso components, and brings off his concept with impressive flair and assurance. His conception is closer to Evgeny Kissin, Mikhail Pletnev, and Kun-Woo Paik than to the long-lined architecture one hears from Hélène Grimaud, Sequeira Costa, and Veronica Jochum. However, the Bach/Liszt benefits from Beus’ headlong tempos and driving momentum; indeed, the Fugue is faster and suppler than the Artur Pizarro and Fazil Say interpretations.

Beus plays the Bach G minor English Suite Sarabande, Gigue, and Prelude pretty much as he did in his 2009 Van Cliburn Competition performance (available as a download), but with more refined articulation this time around. His flexible pacing and singing tone in the E minor Partita Sarabande makes me curious to hear Beus in the entire work. The aforementioned Ravel is direct and rhythmically grounded, yet slightly casual in terms of accent and voicing when compared alongside, say, Abbey Simon’s suavity. However the suppleness and poise of Beus’ fingerwork in the Mozart measures up to and sometimes surpasses better known Mozarteans. He doesn’t take all of the repeats, but who cares? In short, an odd program that doesn’t live up to the cover photo’s attempt to be provocative, but there’s a lot of fine piano playing here.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Dance
Reference Recording: Bach/Busoni Chaconne: Grimaud (DG); Larrocha (Decca), Mozart Duport Variations: Tirimo (Regis); Barenboim (Warner Classics), Ravel Pavane: Simon (Vox)

J.S. BACH: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 BWV 1004 (arr. by Busoni); English Suite No. 3 in G minor BWV 808 (excerpts); Partita No. 6 in E minor BWV 830 (excerpts); Prelude & Fugue in A minor for Organ (arr. by Liszt)
W.A. MOZART: 9 Variations on a Minuet by Jean-Pierre Duport in D major K. 573
MAURICE RAVEL: Pavane pour une infante défunte

  • Stephen Beus (piano)

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