WORKS: Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (Pathétique); Piano Sonata in E, Op. 14/1; Piano Sonata in G, Op. 14/2; Piano Sonata in B flat, Op. 22
PERFORMER: Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56586 2
Op. 22 is, perhaps, not likely to figure high on many lists of favourite Beethoven sonatas, though it apparently did on the composer’s own. There is something oddly impersonal, even schematic, about the material of its opening movement; and the slow movement, for all its incidental beauties, seems to lack the rapt intensity of some of Beethoven’s earlier Adagios. Nothing daunted, Stephen Kovacevich makes a very strong case for the work, vividly conveying the drama and urgency of the opening Allegro, and finding all the gracefulness and charm the minuet and finale need. This strikes me as altogether the finest performance on the disc.
There is much to admire, too, in Kovacevich’s account of the Pathétique, particularly in the warmth of its famous slow movement. In the opening movement, however, it is possible to feel that he is a shade heavy-handed: the initial chords of the introduction are so explosive as to deny the music its sense of world-weariness; and Kovacevich ‘digs in’ to the chords of the Allegro’s main theme in a manner that makes it sound rather relentless. As for the two little Op. 14 sonatas, they are occasionally a little overpedalled, but mostly handled with great affection. The middle movement of the second work in the pair is surely a touch too fast to savour the full humour of Beethoven’s plodding variation theme, but Kovacevich is very funny in the jerky scherzo finale. A somewhat mixed success, then. As an alternative to these performances, the American pianist Richard Goode provides effortless musicality and a somewhat lighter touch. Misha Donat