Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, Op. 53 (Waldstein); Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp, Op. 78; Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, Op. 53 (Waldstein); Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp, Op. 78; Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110
PERFORMER: Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
The American pianist Richard Goode is a Beethoven specialist. A former pupil of Rudolf Serkin, he inherits Serkin’s ideal of objective truth to the text and sense of spiritual depth. You may feel that Goode is a bit too serious for, after all, humour plays a big part in many of the sonatas, and the smiling, lyrical side of Beethoven’s music is overcast. Goode’s approach shows its limitations in the benign and jovial Op. 90, whose throwaway ending he draws out in an unintentionally comic quest for ‘significance’.


In the concert hall Goode is a passionately engaged artist, not exactly noted for a beautiful touch, but always vivid in a rugged sort of way. His interpretations are deeply considered, so you could hardly want a more searching guide to Beethoven’s sonatas. Unfortunately, these recordings have not made the best of him; they lack presence, the sound is muddy, and there are many patches of noisy pedalling. Yet, with the nicely produced booklet and its very decent essay on the music, the set is still competitive, for all sets are disappointing, and surely it’s more rewarding to make up your own with different recordings.


You might do worse than start with Stephen Kovacevich, who has really been caught on top form in a recording which, if not quite the best by modern standards, at least has some life and brilliance. In the Sonata Op. 110, Kovacevich radiates joy and a sort of gleaming aspiration which opens up a path to heaven. For an artist who has often seemed rather unsettled, this must be one of the best things he’s done. The magnificent, symphonic Waldstein is very fine, too, while the more urbane Op. 78 has precisely the humour and nervous crispness of detail which Richard Goode seems to lack. Adrian Jack