ALBUM TITLE: Chopin/Ravel
WORKS: Chopin Waltzes
PERFORMER: Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 346 7342
Stephen Kovacevich has been so strongly associated with the German repertoire that it could come as a surprise to find him tackling Chopin and Ravel. But the result is remarkable: a very personal account, unusual, exciting and invigorating.
Like many pianists, including Dinu Lipatti – a long-standing favourite for this reviewer – Kovacevich does not perform the Chopin waltzes in their printed order. Rather, he has gone back to manuscript sources to restore their original chronological sequence, beginning with the D flat major Waltz Op. 70 No. 3, once considered a late masterpiece, but apparently written when Chopin was only 19. He also incorporates some textual variants from manuscripts and early editions which may raise some eyebrows, but add extra interest and often beauty, especially in the A flat waltz Op. 69 No. 1.
While Lipatti epitomises the best of the values traditionally sought in these works – elegance, charm, refinement – Kovacevich by-passes the salon and goes straight for the spirit. The touch is often nearly Beethovenian, with strong bass lines, rhetorical phrasing and extra emotional intensity in pieces like the B minor waltz Op. 69 No. 2; and there’s a thrilling, joyful energy in the more brilliant pieces.
His Ravel inhabits a similar world: here his propensity for setting earthly delights against spiritual questing finds the higher-octane moments rounded off by a rapt, near-hypnotic account of the Epilogue. Sound quality is close, intimate and resonant, enhancing Kovacevich’s rich tone; some audible humming is not a major problem.