For a generation Stephen Kovacevich has maintained
his position as one of the great Beethoven interpreters. His
earlier, and distinguished recordings for Philips have been
supplemented by an equally compelling series for EMI, while
his live performances have stimulated audiences and critics
These present performances of the sonatas were
recorded several years ago and have been released previously,
collected among the complete cycle. For Musicweb International,
Woolf observed that Ďas a core selection of Kovacevichís
Beethoven this set reveals exceptional pianismí, while stressing
the individual personalities of the different sonatas and
the interpretations of them.
As a single-CD collection, the individuality
of each of these compositions could hardly be more clearly
emphasised in the company of the others. Op. 106, the huge
Hammerklavier, is the largest among Beethovenís sonatas
and the most challenging in terms of range and concentration.
Kovacevich certainly has a command of the musicís architecture
and of its pianistic demands. The scherzo is dramatic rather
than quicksilver, a legitimate enough view, and interesting
in comparison with Maurizio Pollini (DG 449 740-2, a 2 CD
set of the late sonatas) and Claudio Arrau (Philips 468 912-2,
coupled likewise). The latter is particularly impressive in
this work, combining virtuosity with searching intimacy across
the span of the forty-minute long sonata. In that sense Kovacevich
is more concentrated, less wide-ranging, perhaps more structurally
clear-cut. But there is also drama in abundance.
In between the two sonatas come the complete
Op. 119 Bagatelles. The largest of these pieces is
the very first, and that is little more than two minutes in
duration. They are true miniatures therefore, in which Beethoven
can be heard at his most experimental. Again the extraordinary
range of the composerís musical personality can be felt, though
in a very different way. Kovacevich has the measure of the
musicís subtlety. His control of dynamic shadings, through
some expert pedalling, is admirable.
The other sonata is Les Adieux, Op.
81a. This subtle piece gains enormously from the insights
brought by this interpretation, as fine as any in the recorded
catalogue. The searching music of the slow introduction sets
the tone, with a truly expressive depth of feeling that encourages
in due course the rhythmic strength that lies at the heart
of the concept: not for nothing did Beethoven ask for the
finale to be played Vivacissimo.