After Pollini came Kovacevich
Patrick Pierre-Louis | Delmas, Haiti | 03/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After Pollini came Kovacevich !One will look vainly for a better interpretation of Beethoven's piano sonata No. 30 in the entire discography than the one Pollini recorded on DG. As good as Guilels, Arrau, Richter, Kempf, Serkin, Brendel can be, their versions seem almost prosaic when compared with Pollini in this repertoire. Pollini marries poetic expression with pure analytical approach, emphasis on spiritual strand which underlies the work with unveiling of structural lines. However, with his last version, Kovacevich is likely to stand at the right of Pollini. Kovacevich globally adopts the same approach with Pollini but adds a more sensitive tone without ever falling prey to romanticism. The first variation is divinely played with less reserve than Pollini. The second, the third and the fourth are also very well performed. But Pollini's sixth is unforgettable.The other sonatas on the record are also highly recommendable. In Sonata No. 12 the well marked scherzo is a miracle of balance and the grave Marcia funebre leads to a vehemently taken allegro.Sonata No 19 and 20 are played at rather rapid tempi and purged of romantic excesses. Those are straight interpretations that could surprise at first but are very convincing. Listen to Tempo di Menuetto of sonata No. 21. There is no concession to effusion of feelings.As far as the Bagatelles are concerned, they are unsurpassed alternating grace (first and third movement are almost Shubertian in tone and expression) and unbearable lightness. In the last movement, Presto is ice and fire, speed sustained on the razor line of passion.Overall, this stands as a superb recording and Kovacevich set of Beethoven piano sonatas is likely to impose itself as a modern standard."
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 01/07/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"A record of Beethoven Sonatas 28 and 30 by Stephen Bishop, the name he was known by before he switched to Bishop-Kovacevich and finally Kovacevich, was among my first introductions to the greatness of the composer's late all is dust sonatas. I though of that record often as I read glowing review after glowing review of his current cycle of Beethoven sonatas.
Without being willing to invest in his entire cycle, I chose this CD -- Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 12, 19, 20, 30 and Bagatelles, Op. 126 -- as a way to judge the differences between his music from recent years to his work as a youngster 30 years ago. On the basis of this CD I'd have to say his instincts were better as a young man.
The two main works on this CD, the Sonatas 12 (Funeral March) and 30, are flawed, in my opinion. Kovacevich's playing is fine, as always, and he produces a wonderful sonority from the instrument. Yet the overriding feeling of the late Sonata 30 is one of preciousness, as if to say the musical message is so delicate it needs to be massaged to be effective.
The earlier Sonata 12, composed around the time of Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony and employing a funeral march, is poorly phrased, in my opinion. Compared to the way Richter does this music, Kovacevich employs an inappropriate rubato throught the robs it of rhythmic vitality. His style reduces the gravity of the funeral march and breaks the flow of the message.
The remaining pieces on the CD are less willfully done and the little Sonata 20 is delightfully performed. The Bagatelles are also dutifully performed. I wish the whole thing had been done with less personal involvement and more dedication to the score.
It seems to me Kovacevich just tried to put too much personality into the music. It's not like Beethoven's music needs a lot of personal management to make its point, after all. I think this CD is akin to Beethoven the way Harnoncourt might play it on the piano.
Well-played but undistinguished
John Grabowski | USA | 06/20/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"What I have to say about this CD of Kovacevich performing the Beethoven sonatas for EMI applies to much of the rest of the (incomplete) series as well. Kovacevich performs the sonatas admirably, though one can hear him struggling a little in some of the fast passages in Op. 109. (Thanks to the miracle of digital tape editing, there are no missed notes, but some accents are off in some fast runs.) What bothers me, however, somewhat about this cycle is not what's there, but what's not there. There's nothing surprising in any of these interpretations. SK hasn't recorded these works in many years (many of his Philips renditions are coincidentally now available on a "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" two-fer that's well worth the price) and yet says nothing new in any of them. Tempi, phrasing, dynamics are all middle-of-the-road and unremarkable. There's a certain lack of coloration of the music that is a recurring Kovacevich problem. While I understand he's not a colorist, his overall sound is often boring to the point of sounding like an undistinguished first year piano student. Compare his Op. 109 to Schnabel, Arrau, Kempff, to hear the difference, a difference that makes itself especially felt in the more lyrical, "singing" passages of Op. 109. As for the Bagatelles, these are okay readings, but Sviatoslav Richter on Praga (where he also serves up masterful Chopin) will blow your socks off. With so many great recordings of these works in the cataloue, I feel no *compelling* reason to recommend this disc, unless you're a Kovacevich groupie or you simply must have every version of the Beethoven sonatas out there, even ones that don't offer very much that's new. The piano sound, unfortunately, is cold and glassy, as though you're sitting in the high balcony of a very large hall. I am eager to hear SK tackle Beethoven's Hammerklavier, where I think his cool manner and detatched quality might work well. But this is a disappointing release."