Umpteen airline commercials and soundtrack appearances haven't dimmed the splendor of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Few orchestral works are both so stirring and so much fun at the same time, as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and pianist Stephen Beus proved Friday night... Not yet 30, it was easy to see Beus at the piano as a stand-in for the composer, bringing something of jazz into the concert hall. Beus played as if he knew every note from the inside, with complete control of speed and dynamics, with a young man's power but also a gentle caress when called for.
If you thought a classical pianist still in his 20s couldn't instill a sense of vibrancy and make even the hippest of cats drop their proverbial jaw, then you obviously have never witnessed the downright freakish talent of pianist Stephen Beus. Don't let his conservative appearance fool you. Underneath that conventional smile lurks a gifted madman with the ability to take his listeners on a protean aural journey that stands to leave them mentally exhausted…not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
“Mesmerizing... explosive... intelligent... he belongs on the world stage.”
Salt Lake Tribune
“Stephen Beus clearly views Griffes and Scriabin as equal representatives of the last Golden Age of pianist-composers, despite their different musical languages. His Griffes Sonata is an object of wonder: this is how Michelangeli would have played it, utterly convinced of its stature, with crystalline textures, energetic pacing tempered by natural rubato, and sheer virtuosity delighting in its ability to serve pure music. A selection of Griffes's quieter works (including the famous White Peacock) exudes the appropriate aura of exotic fantasy. Beus is up to every technical demand posed by the multiple rhythmic figurations of Scriabin's Sixth Sonata and his projection of the composer's nervous virtuosity is complete...”
BBC Music Magazine
"These are colorful, full-blooded performances… Stephen Beus… seems to have the full measure of this music. He finds shape and contour in the Griffes Sonata, surreally not an easy task, and is able to cool down for the Scriabin. He delivers carefully controlled passion for both composers, with full-throated sonority."
"… a formidable, daring player who hit remarkably few wrong notes despite his edgy style... He ripped through Liszt’s Spanish Rhapsody like an old-fashioned virtuoso, hands rising high over the keyboard, taking runs in octaves and thirds with the rapidity of a .30-caliber machine gun.
Beus was much more than just an impressive technician, however, particularly in works that offered this individualistic pianist the opportunity for interpretive freedom. His performance of Barber’s Piano Sonata—an astringent, rhythmically complex work ... was a suspenseful, intense journey through intricate harmonies and themes fighting to emerge. He built the third movement Adagio mesto to a climax of enormous tension and sonority, and brought the last movement fugue to a fortissimo ending that earned him a mid-recital standing ovation.”
South Florida Classical Review
“There’s a far richer timbral palette in Beus’s gorgeous Griffes performances… he reveals a rock-solid technique, tossing off the manic ‘Scherzo’ that closes out the Fantasy Pictures with scorching ferocity, and giving unusual clarity to the third-movement counterpoint of the Piano Sonata. What’s even more striking than his virtuosity is his sensitivity to the expressive range of the music… Beus’s Scriabin is similarly opulent… this is first-rate playing.”
International Record Review
“The piano concerto was led by a young, American pianist Stephen Beus, who was making his UK debut at the concert. His energetic and mesmerising performance brought out the best in the orchestra, as well as provoking a raucous standing ovation from an often muted and polite audience… the concert never fully recovered after Beus’ performance…”
P. Viktor at Oxford
“A laureate of the Bachauer Competition in Utah and the Vendôme Competition in Lisbon, Stephen Beus won the 2006 Indianapolis competition of The American Pianists Association, under whose auspices this interesting new recording was produced. In some ways Beus doesn't fit the mold of the typical competition winner. His playing is strikingly original and, despite his youth, he has an interpretive voice all his own. While his technical gifts are formidable, he couldn't be described as a flashy player—his interpretations tend more toward the reflective than the extrovert. He manages even the densest textures with utmost clarity. Above all, his playing is so natural as to seem effortless and the sound he produces has extraordinary richness and depth, not quite like anyone else's. The repertoire chosen for this recording—juxtaposing one of the more interesting, if neglected, American composers for piano, Charles Griffes, with his near contemporary Alexander Scriabin—speaks to Beus's thoughtful musical instincts.
Beus launches into the sonata with a heady abandon perfectly appropriate for the washes of color so characteristic of Griffes's brand of impressionism. This is playing with a beautifully calculated juxtaposition of foreground, midrange, and distance lending great dimension to the textures. At the same time, lustrous surfaces never obscure the structural underpinning of the musical argument. Griffes's most famous piano piece, "The White Peacock" from Roman Sketches is treated with a hypersensitive sensuality and subtly graded nuance, bearing comparison with the famous reading of Dame Myra Hess (Pearl 9463). Of the other miniatures recorded here, “The Night Winds” from Three Tone-Pictures must be mentioned as nothing short of exquisite.
Beus's interpretations of the more familiar Scriabin repertoire are even more remarkable in their originality. Judicious pacing and a secure intellectual command of their structures enhance the internal cohesion of the two larger pieces—the Sixth Sonata and the op. 28 Fantasy. The fifth of the op. 8 Etudes unfolds with lilting ease. And compare the bang, crash, and burn interpretation of the 12th Etude by Horowitz (CBS 44797) to Beus's more lyrical approach, fully consistent with Scriabin's patetico marking… with any luck, we will be hearing more of Stephen Beus.”
“His playing of the Mozart was confident, clean and fresh. He allowed the composer's transparent score to speak for itself... Elegant phrases... dazzling technique.”
Salt Lake Tribune
“We had just about given up hope that America would ever again produce a great native-born pianist. Then, on Sunday night at TCU, Stephen Beus, 21, stepped onto stage and joined the Fort Worth Symphony and conductor Eduardo Browne to present a remarkable performance of one of the most beautiful and difficult works in the piano literature, Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 in D minor.
Beus… dived into the titanic difficulties of Rachmaninoff’s Third without breaking a sweat – and what’s more, clearly had an emotional vision that extended beyond just playing the thousands of notes. He’s lean, tall and has a disarmingly unassuming stage presence – inevitably bringing to mind the young Van Cliburn.”
Fort Worth Star Telegram
“Stephen Beus… intoned like a veteran, producing a totally professional sound and demonstrating sophistication beyond his years… Mr. Beus impressed with his evenhandedness, a uniformity of touch sans pedal that made a strong case for Bach on the modern Steinway. By keeping his declamations on an even keel, his lower notes exhibited more power as groundings without any need to make them louder than their upper cohorts. Some slight silences between phrases stressed the drama, while a strong enunciation fostered just the right feeling of gravitas... Expertly performed.”
New York Sun
“Classical music fans should not miss the young pianist Stephen Beus this weekend. His performance of Franz Liszt’s famous first piano concerto is the centerpiece of the Nashville Symphony’s light and playful “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” program… A virtuoso pianist himself, Liszt made huge technical demands on the soloist and… Beus rose to meet them admirably on Thursday’s opening night of the series. Far more impressive than his technical prowess, however, is Beus’s surprisingly delicate treatment of the many slow, quiet and exposed passages Liszt leaves to the solo piano. Beus lingers without luxuriating and is almost contemplative in his use of silence between phrases. It is easy to milk the Romantic Liszt for passion… but Beus’s playing was thoughtfully sensuous. In a night of cinematic, and even cartoonish, color, Beus’s delicacy was welcome.”
“Wednesday a pianist from the west coast of the USA won the spotlight with a spectacular rendition of Prokofiev’s 3rd Concerto. Prokofiev brought forth a true poet in Beus and transformed the Tivoli Symphony Orchestra into a solid, well-oiled machine of devilish rhythms and edged clangs.
Beus maneuvered the ins and outs of this masterpiece consistently, vigorously and with a fabulous surplus. In the most insane and fantastic passages it was like he had placed the orchestra in the middle of a gigantic centrifuge and pushed start.”
"Electrifying... outstanding... simply magnificent throughout.”
“Beus played Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, and it was clear why he won those competitions. The concerto was a joy to hear. Beus is not one of those whiz kids who plays in a "Look, Ma, no hands!" style as he hurtles through the piece at breakneck speed. Rather, though the composer does have the pianist playing a vast number of notes at speed, Beus' approach was mature, his interpretation in the service of the music and the composer's intent. His technique is unobtrusive, yet every note was present and clear, phrases beautifully shaped and thoughtful.
At the same time, his hands appeared remarkably relaxed. His long fingers glided over the keys sometimes so fast they were a blur, yet there was no tension in them, only vitality and excitement, quirkiness or serenity in the music.”
“Beus mined Chopin’s relentless spill of notes for a consistently affecting melody, never gushing over the romantic composer’s tender gestures and heart-tugging harmonic shifts. Through three devilishly difficult movements, his hands were a full chorus of inner and outer voices.”
The News Tribune; Tacoma
“At his May 15 recital, Stephen Beus, First Prize winner of the 2006 Gina Bachauer Competition, exhibited flawless technique wedded to patrician musicianship and discerning artistic taste. J.S. Bach's English Suite in G minor, BWV 808 emerged lithe and transparent, rendered with speed and verve. This was big boned pianistic Bach rather than an attempt to emulate the sonic palette of the harpsichord (for which the score was written). Beus' sense of Bach's structural mastery was clearly delineated, at once grand and festive…
Beus brought lightning pace, musical depth and dazzling technical aplomb to this tour de force (Barber Sonata). He produced a panorama of tonal colors and hauntingly beautiful phrasing in the gorgeous interlude that forms the sonata's third movement. Beus' interpretation of this pensive, darkly ruminative sonata was riveting.
The pianist displayed a lighter side in Mendelssohn's Sonata in E Major, Op.6. The four brief movements overflowed with feathery lyricism in a beguiling performance. He plumbed the depths of the grandiose Forgotten Melody, Op.39, No.5 (Sonata Tragica) by Nikolai Medtner. Beus captured the dramatic power and melancholic undertones of one of the composer's most profound scores.”
Lawrence Budmen - Miami
“Sublime musical intuition... sulfurous virtuosity...”
The Buffalo News
“This release easily stands out among Harmonia Mundi's three recital discs devoted to American Pianists Association fellows. It showcases Stephen Beus, who, in his early 20s, plays with the mature mastery and perception of an artist twice his age.
Why does Charles Tomlinson Griffes' passionate, utterly original brand of Romanticism remain outside of the central piano repertoire's mainstream? Certainly the 1918 Piano Sonata's imaginative textures, sensuous melodies, and thoroughly idiomatic keyboard deployment warrant including this work alongside "Great American Piano Sonatas" by Ives, Barber, Carter, and Copland. And if you think some of the tumultuous finale's figurations are Prokofiev Seventh knock-offs, just remember that the Prokofiev appeared a quarter century later. This movement particularly reveals how the prodigious range of color, articulations, and moods Beus brings to the Sonata as a whole are borne out of the pianist's fastidious adherence to the composer's dynamic markings, stresses, and accents. Moreover, Beus avoids any semblance of banging in the music's loudest, thickest passages. Similar comments apply to the smaller pieces and to the beautifully detailed Scriabin etudes.
Beus unravels the elusive plot-line of Scriabin's Sixth Sonata with no less character and clarity than Hamelin, Ashkenazy, and Richter. Listen to the multi-hued shading of his repeated notes, trills, and rapid rolled chords: this is major-league pianism through and through. Indeed, Beus manages to transform the prolix and uninteresting B minor Fantasy into a mini-masterpiece. Don't miss this truly memorable CD from a pianist destined for great things. Also be sure to check out Beus' impetuous live performances of the Chopin B minor and Barber Sonatas from the 2005 Van Cliburn Competition Preliminary Round, available as digital downloads.”
“While Stephen Beus pursues his career as a virtuoso pianist, performing the most famous works in the repertoire for international competitions and concerts, his first recording is an interesting album of relatively obscure music by two American composers. Compared to the warhorses by Rachmaninov and Chopin that Beus plays for prizes, the keyboard works by Samuel Barber and Marion Bauer are under-performed and under-recorded, though Bauer's are quite unfamiliar and the least represented on disc. Taking the road less traveled and programming these unusual selections shows Beus to be an intelligent artist who recognizes that his audience wants to hear more than the standard fare, and knows that his reputation can only be enhanced with an album as attractive, subtle, and compelling as this one. The Sonata for piano in E flat minor (1949) is the spikiest work here, and reveals Barber's serious experimentation with modernist techniques in a manner fairly reminiscent of Prokofiev. In contrast, Excursions (1942-1944), a set of four studies on American melodies, may be regarded as a populist work, though it was conceived with a sophisticated appreciation for folk tunes and resembles some of Poulenc's pieces in a similarly upbeat vein. With its enigmatic harmonies and dark-hued shifting of keys, Barber's Nocturne in A flat major (1959) provides a smooth transition into Bauer's quasi-Impressionistic music. Her works are not especially adventurous, so Pine-Trees (1921), the Three Impressions (1918), and the Six Preludes (1922) may strike some listeners as too lightweight and fragile to follow Barber's more strongly characterized pieces. Yet Bauer's evanescent colors and lush harmonies are winning, and her part of the program provides a gentle contrast to the muscular beginning. Beus maintains control of all the varied moods of these pieces, never exaggerating or misrepresenting their features; consequently, he produces a program that feels unified in spirit, and does justice to both Barber's genius and Bauer's ingenuity. The recording is clean and sharp, so what is heard accurately reflects Beus' crisp execution and nuanced expression.”
“The Twin Cities Concert Association set a high standard for its 2007-08 season Sunday with a dazzling performance by 26-year-old pianist Stephen Beus.
Music schools turn out pianists by the hundreds, and we will never hear most of them. A few rise to the top, winning prestigious prizes, going on tour and receiving recording contracts. How is a pianist to stand out? Virtuosity isn't enough. The good ones have more. They speak through the music and make us listen, not just marvel. Stephen Beus, already a prize-winner, stood out with an unusual program that showed us musical style and eloquence, as well as formidable technique.
It also was not a bad idea to play what others don't, such as the unfamiliar sonata by Mendelssohn, composed in his teens but no child's play for a pianist. Beus had a delicacy of touch and depth of understanding for the complex piece, which ranges from the lyrical and the emotional to the quicksilver. One critic wrote of Mendelssohn that "his fingers sang." Beus' fingers sang, too, and he seemed almost literally to be singing, so much was he enjoying himself.
The other novelty was "Mediterranean Sketches" by the little-known 20th century French composer, Marguerite Canal. Not knowing a composer forces us to pay attention. Our ears were innocent. What we got was an expressive and atmospheric treat of melody and waves of rich harmony, impressionist in style - one of the pieces was titled "Play of the Sun on the Waves" - but original and effective.
Two Shostakovich preludes and fugues followed, not often heard in recitals. The demanding fugues - the measure of any pianist's skill - showed off the extent of Beus' talent. He finished with Rachmaninoff, a familiar prelude and a pyrotechnic etude-tableau (oh yes, he can do the fiery stuff), and Liszt's "La Campanella" as a bravura encore.
The video projection of his hands enabled us to appreciate his impressive, almost casual technique, so easy does he make it look, as well as his musicianship. Remember his name. I think we will hear more of him.”
The Nevada Union
“Beus' stage presence starts with a gentle demeanor that one could mistake for shyness but easily turns into confident playing that never takes on the overtones of arrogance. His playing of the (Bach) prelude was bold and commanding without being the least bit strident. The fugue that followed was a delicately woven but self-assured contrast that gradually built in intensity.
Next came Felix Mendelssohn's "Sonata in E Major," Op. 6, written when Mendelssohn was only 17. In Beus' hands, one could hear in it Mendelssohn trying a bit of this, mixed with a touch of that, just to see how they might feel together in the first movement "Allegretto con expressione."
After intermission were more preludes and fugues, this time by Dmitri Shostakovich. They paid an intellectual debt to Bach's "Das Wohltemperierte klavier," even though they were written more than two centuries later... Only two of the "24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87," written in 1951, which Shostakovich intended to be played as a complete cycle, the "D Major" is an optimistic and cheerful prelude, followed by a fugue that played little games full of joy and delight in Beus' execution. The "D Minor" not only concludes the cycle but, under Beus' control, did so with commanding authority and resolution.
All of these pieces only gave a glimpse of what Beus could do with Vladimir Horowitz's one-upmanship to the famous "Hungarian Rhapsody #2 of Franz Liszt, the ultimate upstager and transformer, who could reduce whole operas and symphonies to keyboard masterpieces.
Beus tackled it as though he were untangling a knotted ball of yarn in order to reknit a complicated sweater, doing both at the same time. Without any sense of timidity, Beus dove into the piece with enough enthusiasm and bravado to warm up the unheated auditorium to the point of generating roars of approval from the audience.”
“Stephen Beus… has just graduated from Whitman College, has yet to begin advanced studies at Juilliard, yet his technique, and most surprisingly, his artistry, are fully formed and brilliantly apparent already.
His program called for enormous drive and technical precision, yet there were only a few slipped notes in the entire two-hour marathon, a batting average even the greats would envy. I am familiar with the two major pieces, fiendish sonatas by Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, from my longtime friend and Columbia Artist, Thomas Schumacher, and from his idol Vladimir Horowitz.
To hear performances of similar fire and expertise from a young man from the Washington wheat fields was astounding and absolutely unexpected. I can only take the word of my guest for the concert, a London concert pianist and composer with 40 years as a professional musician under his belt, who said with amazement that he had never heard a better Liszt “Spanish Rhapsody” in person or on records. We will remember, after he is famous, that we heard Stephen Beus back when, and he was already a fabulous artist.”
The Montana Standard