As is well known Kovacevich’s recording of the cycle of Beethoven’s
piano sonatas was a protracted affair. This box forms a core selection
and sports recordings dates over a decade apart, the earliest
dating from 1992 and the most recent from 2003.
speaking this cycle came in for an uneven reception. Listening
to these particular sonatas again confirms one in the belief
that Kovacevich veers from tranluscence and tonal beauty to
a powerful straining at the leash that more than once causes
unsettling things to happen. Whatever else may be true these
are performances that are never dull.
Moonlight is a emblematic case study. It opens very slowly
though not in a way that seems either especially nuanced or
indeed very expressive. But Kovacevich, after negotiating the
Allegretto with sang froid, then reveals his schema for the
work, which is a sting in the tail – a daemonically driving,
helter skelter finale unleashed with ferocious force.
we reach the Appassionata we encounter a less
overtly fearsome presence but one that remains palpably insistent,
chordally tenacious, and a performance that gives us a broadly
externalised texture. It’s immensely impressive but rather one-sided.
The Hammerklavier opens a touch under
the mark but is architecturally cogent. The scherzo can be a
little heavy, whilst the slow movement is a rather aloof, perhaps,
tonally refined but not overtly expressive. I must admit I find
Les Adieux far preferable, indeed one of the very best
played and interpreted of the examples in this three CD set.
It’s a powerful traversal but along with the clarity and directness
we find an expressive depth and a taut rhythmic profile that
is not the product of Kovacevich’s sometimes too powerful attacks.
The sense of unceasing
attack can be felt in the opening movement of the Waldstein
sonata – some indeed may find it too unyielding. I think the
same may be the case with Op.111 which shares something of this
gargantuan quality and in addition to which, the Arietta never
quite takes flight. Op.110 however does attain a cathartic power
that isn’t predicated merely on tensile strength.
The recordings are
necessarily variable given the wide span of time and the two
locations involved. As a core selection of Kovacevich’s Beethoven
this set reveals exceptional pianism though the results are
somewhat more ambivalent.