Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Review: Bruce Stevens

Nov. 26, University of Richmond

Bruce Stevens, who as organ instructor at the University of Richmond presides over the Beckerath organ in UR’s Cannon Memorial Chapel, put the instrument through its paces in an all-German program ranging from Buxtehude and Bach to Brahms and Rheinberger.

The two-manual, 26-rank tracker organ, installed in 1961 and restored in 2003, was modeled by Rudolf von Beckerath after baroque organs in northern Germany; its predominantly reedy sonority and bright tone colors deliniate contrapuntal scoring as few modern-style instruments can. Stevens demonstrated that capacity in Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV 552 ("St. Anne") and Buxtehude’s more modestly scaled Passacaglia in D minor.

Stevens delivered his most fluent and idiomatic playing, though, in the Sonata No. 7 in F minor, Op. 127, of Josef Rheinberger, the late-19th century composer whose music Stevens has advocated for much of his career. (He has recorded four discs of Rheinberger’s organ works on the Raven label.)

Rheinberger, a native of Lichtenstein who spent his professional life in Germany (mainly in Munich), was a near-exact contemporary of Brahms; but his style might better be compared with that of Camille Saint-Sa├źns. Like the French composer (also a near-contemporary), Rheinberger was a fecund melodist who dressed up his tunes with displays of technique and explorations of instrumental atmospherics while adhering to conventional classical form. His Seventh Sonata (he wrote 20 in all) is a grandly stated representation of his work; Stevens’ performance made a very persuasive case for it.

The program also featured the Preludium in G minor and chorales on "Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist" and "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" by Buxtehude, Brahms’ Chorale Prelude on "Herzlich tut mich erfreuen" and Mozart’s Adagio and Allegro in F minor, K. 594, for mechanical organ.