WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90; Piano Sonata No. 28 in A, Op. 101; Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
PERFORMER: Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54599 2 DDD
This is an impressive opening to Stephen Kovacevich’s projected Beethoven sonata cycle for EMI. Kovacevich made some fine Beethoven recordings for Philips in the late Sixties, and like all great interpreters he has something unique to say about these wonderful and timeless works.
He begins his new survey with three of the late sonatas. The E minor and A major are given individual and highly satisfying readings in which emotional restraint is coupled with a marked forcefulness. Beethoven’s instruction that the second movement of Op. 90 should be played ‘singingly’ is observed, but Kovacevich does not wear his heart on his sleeve and the overall impression is one of control and intelligence rather than easy emotion. He projects notable strength and energy in the second and third movements of Op 101, but this is nothing compared to the raw power he unleashes in the C minor, Beethoven’s final work in the genre.
Here the emphasis is on sheer physical excitement. Kovacevich’s account of the opening movement (marked ‘appassionato’) must be one of the most forceful – not to say violent – on disc. This is Beethoven storming the heavens. But the ultimate transcendence of the music in the sublime concluding Arietta and variations is also effectively realised and the playing in the final coda has the kind of intensity that leads you to hold your breath lest you break the spell.
The excellent recording places the piano slightly at a distance but catches occasional breathing noises from Kovacevich. These are probably not the only performances of these sonatas to have in a record collection but Kovacevich provides a compelling alternative view.David Michaels