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Stephan Beneking & Brad Hill “Preludes Fantasies”

I came across Stephan Beneking’s music on SoundCloud over a year ago and noticed that he is generously offering the note sheets of his compositions to pianists for free. I liked the fact that Stephan does not specify tempo or any other details in his note sheets, leaving it for pianists to express their own emotions and their own vision of each piece. It was amazing to listen to hundreds (literally) of recordings of Stephan’s compositions made by different people.

Stephan Beneking lives in Berlin, Germany. As of today, he has composed over 250 piano pieces in neoclassical, classical, romantic, melodic and contemporary styles. His melodies are often compared to Chopin, Schuman, Schubert and Satie. In this review I would like to introduce you to the “Preludes Fantasies” album, composed by Stephan and played by Brad Hill, a brilliant classical pianist living in North Carolina, USA.

In the first track, “Prelude  Fantaisie No. 3″, you encounter unexpected harmony turns topped with edgy, dramatic melodies. Both are epic and romantic at the same time in the way that they are interpreted by Brad Hill. Following this is “Prelude Fantaisie No. 5″ where you can hear a magic touch of Bach with clear delivery on each note, sounding almost like a clavier. I could feel the passion and the longing in the short motif expanded to deep variation in this composition. The next “Prelude Fantaisie No. 6″ sounded Baroque as well, and I was amazed how well the energetic arpeggios paired with a kind of Rubato waltzing in some single voice melodic lines. The ending of this tune is sombre and almost triumphant. The 4th track concludes the mini series of “Preludes Fantaisies” and presents you another melody, very soaring and almost dancing along the keyboard, bringing to mind Beethoven’s way of using the full range of octaves in one piece. Still hearing Chopin styled runs with gentle left hand support in arpeggios. What a great delivery from Brad! The listener might be surprised and delighted to hear the occasional accents and tempo changes.

The 5th track, “Dances on icy waters – suite”, is the longest on the album and is very true to the title. Stephan is masterfully using the higher timbre in the melody and beautiful energetic runs turn each tinkling note into a tiny icicle. Miraculous composition with a minimal melody, yet telling so much with just a repetitive motif, twists in harmonies and rich dynamics of this tune. Amazing tension, yet you can spot the melancholy  that is often associated with Beneking’s music. I couldn’t help but image Bach and Chopin improvising together in this track, instantly becoming one of my favourites in this album. As I kept listening, those unsettled chord progressions just added to the tension of the middle part (around 4 minutes along the track) and variations kept changing from minimal to massive and darker bass notes, supporting the changing mood.

“Nocturne F minor No. III”, the 6th track, offers the lovely contrast between a very spacious start and the more dramatic middle, then back to the leading motif in both soaring and hesitating manner. Many ornaments contribute to the brilliance of the sound, combining Baroque and Romantic periods in one new sound.

The following four tracks comprise the selection of “Petits Reves Bizarres” (“Strange Little Dreams”) series. Hearing these pieces left me personally with a sentimental feeling, as I used to play and record the whole series (24 pieces) myself. “Petit Reve Bizarre No 10″ is another great example of a melody, beautiful and flowing as a song, the continuous phrases are both dramatic and romantic. The following is 11th “Petit” with a dancing feel in a waltzing rhythm. Here we can witness the great repetitive harmonies with interesting variation on the melody and surprising finale. The 9th track of the album, “Petit Reve Bizarre No 20″, is again reminiscent of Bach with Chopin’s sensitivity in harmonic shifts, minimalistic single voice melody and tempo changes that Brad Hill artistically chose. This composition is among those that I can call my top favourites, along with “Dances on icy water suite”. The last, 22nd “Petit”, surprises with some Eastern twists in harmonies, stirring dramatic delivery and thrilling runs.

The 11th track of the album, “Valse Melancolique No II” reminded me of the Russian composer Griboedov and his waltzes – also being dramatic and sensual, not a dull moment while listening. Enjoy the occasional syncopating and arpeggios in melody, with more surprises in harmonies. The following “Valse Melancolique No III” is authentic to its title. The low bass chords and melodic line extended to the usage of chords instead of a single notes, like in previous pieces, turn the mood into darker, yet still danceable.

The final track of the album, “The last flight of the cranes”, strikes the listener with epic, dramatic Rachmaninoff style explosive accents and melodic passages in the left hand. Then some syncopated melodies contrast the later meditative mood. It is possible that those twists, accents and originality of the melodies are the signature of neo-classical composer.

Album review by Milana Zilnik
Proof-reading by Arty Sandler