WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Opp. 7, 54 & 57 (Appassionata); Sonatine, Op. 79
PERFORMER: Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56765 2
This groups the Appassionata with two relatively modest sonatas Beethoven wrote immediately before and after it. The fourth sonata on the disc is the earliest, and also, arguably, the most challenging to a pianist. Op. 7 is a visionary, orchestrally conceived piece in four movements which cover a huge range of character. Kovacevich’s performance of the ebullient first movement is virtually indistinguishable from that of Richard Goode, which is to put him in the most exalted company. Kovacevich also has the benefit of a brighter, more transparent recording and a piano with a particularly rich bass. Yet that seems a luxury one can happily forgo in the light of Goode’s playing of the rest, for he is more relaxed and generously expressive than Kovacevich in the profound slow movement, more charming in the minuet and finale, where he brings a livelier contrast to the stormy minor episode after the rondo theme.
Kovacevich makes the opening movement of the Appassionata particularly spacious and heroic. The percussive quality of his accents, the sharpness of his dynamic contrasts and superb control of the quietest passages, all these purely pianistic qualities are thrilling in themselves. But he never seems to forget himself, whereas Goode goes beyond fine piano-playing to a world of feeling and wonder, where truth transcends technique. This really shows in the sublime variations of the Appassionata’s middle movement, and in the liberation Goode brings to the end of the finale.
He is altogether freer and more charming than Kovacevich in both Op. 54 and Op. 79, despite the fact that I prefer Kovacevich’s more flowing tempo in the central Andante of Op. 79. Adrian Jack