Last Saturday, the music department continued the celebration of the Music at Mount Allison Anniversary series in a captivating recital by music department head Stephen Runge. The performance, “A Century Passed – Music for Solo Piano from 1916-1917,” presented works by well-established composers of the late-19th and -20th centuries with several works connected to World War I.
The recital opened with two contrasting works by Russian composers, featuring the first movement, “The Magic Violin,” from Medtner’s Fairy Tales (Skazki), Opus 34, and the third and fifth movements from Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux, Opus 39. In the fifth movement of Études-Tableaux, Appassianto in E-Flat Minor, Runge allowed the grandeur of the texture to naturally evolve: chordal motion acted as supporting background and forward momentum for the melody, resulting in the audience’s continuous immersion in a thick layer of sound, making each climax striking.
The latter part of the first half featured Ferruccio Busoni’s Sonatina No.4, Bela Bartok’s piano Suite, Opus 14 and Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata in A minor, Opus 28. In Bartok’s Suite, each subsequent movement becomes increasingly active and lively until the more reflective and gentle-sounding fourth movement.
The opening movement is rhythmically driven, which Runge used to set the tone for the suite. The following movement is a scattered sounding Scherzo, which is emphasized through clashing harmonies. Described by Runge as the most “violent and percussive,” the third movement reached the Suite’s height of intensity, which was not only experienced audibly, but also physically through Runge’s body language and movement.
The second half of the show featured multiple works that were either inspired by World War I or dedicated to people affected by it, ranging from the first, fourth and fifth movements of Leo Ornstein’s Poems of 1917, Opus 41, to Maurice Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin (1917).
The first piece in the second half was Claude Debussy’s final piano composition, Les Soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon, and was noticeably the more delicate work performed.
“The pieces were technically brilliant and every note had such thought and intention behind it,” Leavitt said. Runge effectively conveyed the repeated bass tone as a soft central pitch and drone, creating an atmosphere that freely allowed the melody to float above the light harmonies.
The next work, “The Fountain of the Acqua Paola” from Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s Roman Sketches, Opus 7, highlighted Runge’s ability to elicit the imagery of the composition’s title. Runge artistically created the soundscape and imagery of smooth water flowing down the fountain through the fast passages and expansive lines that spanned an extensive range of the piano.
Runge capped off the program with Maurice Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin (1917) piano suite. Ravel had dedicated each movement to a different friend who passed away fighting in World War I. The first three movements are peaceful and pleasant-sounding, contrasting with the last three movements that included a lively and bright Rigaudoon, a graceful Menuet and an exhilarating Toccata that had flashes of flair and virtuosity – a fitting end for a challenging program.
The audience thoroughly enjoyed the impressive program Runge compiled.
“Attending Dr. Runge’s recital was an absolute thrill. Seeing someone you look up to take the stage is ever so inspiring,” said Emily Leavitt, a first-year pianist in Runge’s studio.
Second-year student Madeleine Gaudette, also in Runge’s studio, said, “The recital was so powerful and passionate. He really captured all of the details and told stories in the pieces he played.”