Sonata in B flat, Op.106 (Hammerklavier)
Sonata in E flat, Op.81a (Les adieux)
Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
Recorded in Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London in October 2001 and June 2002 (Op.81a)
CD No: EMI 5575202 Duration: 71 minutes Reviewed: May 2003
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
This is one of the most commanding accounts of Beethovens mighty Hammerklavier an unflinching, sometimes combative view of a titanic masterpiece, and a version to be spoken of in the same breath as those of Brendel, Gilels and Pollini. Superbly recorded, with outstanding clarity and presence, Kovacevich announces the musics potency from the first bar, more or less at Beethovens very demanding fast metronome. This is not though a one-dimensional slog through what should be many and varied vistas, for Kovacevich displays the poetic recesses of the exposition as sensitively as he is heroic in the dramatic passages. The whole is a tour de force of concentration and inevitability.
The Scherzo is a joy of rhythmic enigma, while the profound Adagio sostenuto has a limpidity of touch and abounds in poetry, Kovacevichs (flowing) tempo perfectly judged to encompass reverie and emotional floridity. The huge finale so many notes! while less expectant in its opening bars than some have made it remains true to Kovacevichs direct if subtly managed traversal of the whole. This fugal finale truly remarkable in an insane sort of way brings from Kovacevich both a mastery of formalities and a white knuckle ride in terms of going for it. That we arrive at the close exhilarated but not disintegrated is a tribute to Kovacevichs strength of physique and vision.
Placed first on the CD, the Hammerklavier (pianoforte in Germanic terminology) is an astonishing experience. The Bagatelles are a much-needed antidote (or, of course, you can just press the stop button). The 11 miniatures of Op.119 and none is briefer than the 7-second Allegramente are maybe chips in Beethovens canon but the Bagatelles are also a testimony to his gift for melody; a real ideas man.
The full-circle aspect of Les adieux Farewell, Absence, Return is secondary to this sonata being one of Beethovens most lucid and touching works, admirably conveyed by Kovacevich whose sense of resolution and fantasy is very satisfying.
Ultimately, this is one of the great records of the Hammerklavier.