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CD: Crotchet


Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata in B flat major, Op. 106 Hammerklavier (1819) [40:06]
Sonata in E flat major, Op. 81a Les Adieux (1813) [15:37]
Bagatelles, Op. 119 (1819) [14:04]
Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
rec. 17-23 October 2001 (Opp. 106, 119); 24-29 June 2002 (Op. 81a), Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London
EMI CLASSICS 2 28515 2 [70:39]
Experience Classicsonline

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 alike.

These present performances of the sonatas were recorded several years ago and have been released previously, collected among the complete cycle. For Musicweb International, Jonathan 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.

Terry Barfoot


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