Stephen Porter Revives Classical Masterpieces

Faculty pianist Stephen Porter brought three classical masters ,Liszt, Schubert and Beethoven, back to life at his recital last Saturday. Porter’s chosen pieces showcased the culmination of each composer’s different style and featured Porter’s ability to swiftly transform the atmosphere in the chapel from one piece to the next. Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111” was the audience’s favorite piece, ending the show on a good note. The sonata, uniquely composed of two movements, explored a wide range of emotions. While the first movement displayed thunderous fury and forceful power, the second movement contrasted strikingly with its peaceful, meditative quality. Before performing his finale, Porter told a humorous story about how Beethoven’s publishers believed that the great artist had forgotten to compose a last movement to the piece. The virtuosity that Porter exhibited in the first movement enraptured the audience. The rapid sixteenth notes on both hands added to the impassioned roar that ended unexpectedly with a soft major cadence. The ending depicted a fierce struggle of life giving way to everlasting peace. In the second movement, the conflict was replaced by a simple, expansive melody that grew in complexity. This sudden shift between the movements shocked all the listeners. An audience member, Pam McCallum, said, “I was surprised by the variety of the Beethoven sonata. It was really unexpected.” The third variation delighted the audience with its a jazzy mood, full of syncopations and accidentals. The theme from the previous movement reappeared multiple times in the last variation. “It seemed as if Beethoven could not let go [of the theme],” said Porter. Christopher Walter, Instructor in Music, said, “The second movement of the Beethoven was particularly fine. The way the theme unfolds in the piece is extraordinary. It’s very ethereal how the theme transforms itself.” In contrast to the finale, the first piece “Les jeux d’eaux a la Villa d’Este” by Franz Liszt was more lighthearted and undulating. Like many of Liszt’s other works, this piece was also highly virtuosic and fast-paced. Porter chose this piece to commemorate the composer’s 200th birthday. The piece accommodated the title with its wavy, water-like accompaniment. Porter successfully highlighted the notes of the fragile melody. Porter performed another piano sonata, Franz Schubert’s “Sonata No. 21 in B flat Major, D. 960.” He illustrated a heart-wrenching story of how Schubert wrote this sonata in the last year of his life. The second movement, “Andante Sostenuto,” was, according to Porter, “the emotional center of gravity around which the piece gravitated.” Schubert’s last sonata is unique in structure because it is composed four movements instead of the usual three. The first movement began with a standard exposition of the theme. However, the sweet, lyrical theme ended with a soft cacophony of an ominous minor trill that foreshadowed the dark emotions at the end of the movement. Porter drew life from the instrument with his forceful chords and marked rhythm. The accompaniment that resembled the sounds of stones slowly dropping into a pond counterbalanced the second movement’s melancholy melody. After an extension of this initial section, the movement quickly transitioned into a singsong theme, accompanied by a quick-moving tune. The last two movements featured quick, light and playful playing. The final section ended with a flourish that built up to the very end in three strong, loud chords. These chords reverberated in the chapel, leaving remnants of the virtuosic playing. Porter was well received by the audience and praise buzzed around the room after his last bow. A member of the audience commented that his performance impressed her. She said, “He did not want to show off his playing. Instead, he felt and understood the music and tried to bring out the emotion and the story behind the music rather than play the notes mechanically.” It is rare to hear Schubert and Beethoven’s last sonatas, which are both technically and artistically challenging. However, Porter definitely mastered these difficult pieces in his concert. The variety of the music brought diverse, challenging and beautiful masterpieces of musical literature to the Chapel for all to enjoy.