Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

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Lance
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Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

Post by Lance » Sun Sep 03, 2017 3:20 pm

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com ... US218_.jpg
Warner Classics 58692, 9 CDs

I didn't NEED it, another set of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas, but the price was right, and I do admire Kovacevich very much. However, Warner has issued the 32 plus the two sets of Bagatelles, Opp. 119 and 126, all recorded originally for EMI between 1991 and 2003. All are on nine CDs.

The box blurb goes: "'Nobody plays this music more authoritatively and eloquently,' wrote London's Sunday Times of Stephen Kovacevich in Beethoven. 'He is in his element, responding wholeheartedly to the extreme physicality that Beethoven brought to music ... but the wit and delicacy of the playing are also remarkable.' Kovacevich himself has spoken of his love for the 'fun and virtuosity' of the composer's early sonatas, while in the often challenging later works he sees a 'subtext of radiance and some sort of inherent faith in life.'"

Facsimiles of the original discs adorn the sleeves within the box.

Any comments by our Beethoven aficionados? How does Kovacevich compare to the great Schnabel, Kempff (various editions), Goode, Gulda (various editions), Backhaus, Ashkenazy, Heidsieck, Brendel (various editions), Yves Nat, Fiorentino, Arrau (early), Grinberg, Claude Frank, Nikolayeva, not to mention those larger portions of sonatas recorded by Gieseking (EMI, and live on Tahra), Gilels (DGG), and Hungerford. That's enough above for one man and his love for music. There's many other complete 32s I don't have, but are certainly worthy of consideration.

So, what's the verdict on Kovacevich's place among the pantheon of pianists in this repertoire?
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
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maestrob
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Re: Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

Post by maestrob » Mon Sep 04, 2017 10:58 am

My favorite Beethoven 32 is still Brendel's second traversal for Phillips. He has something to say with every note, and luckily it was a gift! :D I understand why Brendel disavowed his early recordings for Vox: tempo choices are not always right, and there's a lack of depth in the playing.

My second favorite is Russell Sherman, who plumbs the depths with accuracy and exactly right tempi to make the music sing. Hard to find now, these are recordings for the ages, along with his readings of the piano concerti with Vaclav Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic.

In mono, Wilhelm Kempff's set of sonatas for DGG ranks high in my estimation.

I have the set by Arrau on my shelves, but haven't opened it so have no opinion yet.

Steven Bishop-Kovacevich is a fine artist but I've not heard his set of sonatas: your post has intrigued me, Lance, so I'll look into acquiring this new edition.

I also have Barenboim's issue for EMI (his younger interpretation). While all the notes are there, I find his playing ultimately boring. Perhaps that's why he remade them for DGG, but I don't have that set, so have no opinion.

Gieseking's set that was also gifted to me, I find cold and hard: I could barely listen to them. Again the notes are there, but there's no humanity: to my ears, it sounds like computer generated music. No thanks!

I'll stop now....... :D

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Re: Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

Post by John F » Mon Sep 04, 2017 2:21 pm

I've some of his recordings as Stephen Bishop, mainly concertos with Colin Davis but also Beethoven Sonatas 30 and 31 as recorded in the '60s by EMI. Very lyrical playing, I like it very much. Whether he still plays that way, I've no idea; Murray Perahia's style became more assertive and virtuosic in middle age, and maybe Bishop's did too with his name change to Kovacevic, but maybe not. Whatever, like Lance I don't need another Beethoven sonata cycle, indeed I'm not buying records now but the opposite.
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Re: Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

Post by Lance » Mon Sep 04, 2017 2:25 pm

Very nice post, Brian. Thank you. I, too, have the early Arrau set (now on Decca) but forgot to include it. I am less interested in the later version, however. With Arrau, I find I am more fascinated with his art in his early recordings for American Decca and EMI and RCA than in his work with Philips for the most part.

Your comments on Brendel are also right on. I have the Decca BIG box with all his recordings of Beethoven everything else he did, and like others, prefer the version recorded prior to his final recording. However, I have long admired his Vox recordings. Perhaps I was attracted more to the pianos he used, probably German Steinways or Boesdendorfers, maybe Bechsteina. But Brendel's SCHUBERT recordings for Vox are, far and away, his best efforts, having just come off of studies with the great Classical period teacher, Edwin Fischer, another great favourite of yours truly. The founder of this board, Ward Botsford, recorded Brendel in Europe and often spoke to me about these experiences. True, Brendel was very young at the time, but there is a freshness in his approach to much of those early recordings. Besides, I guess he wasn't paid very much in those years, but he sure worked like a horse! I was not all that enamoured with Brendel's recordings on the Vanguard label, a company with whom he was short lived. I think much had to do there with the sound of his piano and the way it was captured.
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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arepo
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Re: Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

Post by arepo » Thu Sep 07, 2017 6:05 pm

Maestro..
Of the many large sets of the I have, Russell Sherman's definitely ranks very high overall. My preference has been Andras Schiff , Rudolf Serkin and Richard Goode, but the issue is so very subjective and I believe it's virtually impossible to select just one.
In my memory of superb special individual Beethoven sonatas I heard live, Richter on Op.2 in C, Emanuel Ax in Op.57 and Perahia in Op.22 stand out and Pollini's recording of the Hammerklavier is also magnificent.
Stephen Kovacevich is a brilliant artist but I haven't heard enough of his Beethoven sonatas to make a judgment.
My best regards to you and your special bride.
cliftwood

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Re: Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

Post by Belle » Mon Sep 18, 2017 6:43 pm

The Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas performed by Stephen Kovacevich have just been delivered to my postbox and liberated from their packaging by my husband!! Guess what I'll be doing for the rest of the, er, day?? :D

Just when a lot of Beethoven is never enough, there's also Jan Swafford's excellent "Triumph and Anguish".

Belle
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Re: Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

Post by Belle » Mon Sep 18, 2017 9:00 pm

Just listened to Sonata No. 26, "Les Adieux". Drama and poetry aplenty but not happy with Kovacevich's playing of Bars 166-173 in the final movement, which is choppy both in the first iteration and this repeat at the end of the sonata. You lose the sense of rhythm here when Kovacevich concentrates on the base line which overwhelms the jaunty rhythm in the treble. Disappointing when compared to this; note 15:42 and the same section played with much more bounce and clarity by Arrau. Ironic, since I feel his is a version which pulls the rhythm and pace about much more liberally throughout this movement:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlJGliWCDVc

I've been following all the Beethoven sonatas today with the score, observing dynamics etc. This gives a far more tangible sense of the challenge and achievements for musicians!!

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Re: Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

Post by Lance » Mon Sep 18, 2017 10:24 pm

Interesting post. I suppose it is all in the mind of the interpreter, which makes all music the more interesting. I wonder how you would compare Kovacevich's to Artur Schnabel's recording from the 1930s, or those by Rubinstein, Rudolf Serkin or Wilhelm Backhaus or Wilhelm Kempff. There are so many grand recordings of this work.
Belle wrote:
Mon Sep 18, 2017 9:00 pm
Just listened to Sonata No. 26, "Les Adieux". Drama and poetry aplenty but not happy with Kovacevich's playing of Bars 166-173 in the final movement, which is choppy both in the first iteration and this repeat at the end of the sonata. You lose the sense of rhythm here when Kovacevich concentrates on the base line which overwhelms the jaunty rhythm in the treble. Disappointing when compared to this; note 15:42 and the same section played with much more bounce and clarity by Arrau. Ironic, since I feel his is a version which pulls the rhythm and pace about much more liberally throughout this movement:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlJGliWCDVc

I've been following all the Beethoven sonatas today with the score, observing dynamics etc. This gives a far more tangible sense of the challenge and achievements for musicians!!
Lance G. Hill
Editor-in-Chief
______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Belle
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Re: Beethoven's 32: Stephen Kovacevich

Post by Belle » Wed Sep 20, 2017 4:58 pm

Yesterday I spent much of the day listening to Kovacevich playing Beethoven's "Hammerklavier", comparing it to versions I have by Richter, Pollini and Brendel. I quickly put the Richter to one side as I consider he was way past his prime when he recorded these late Beethoven sonatas (there were many slips). Pollini can be somewhat hard-driven and granitic, as is certainly the case with the first movement of Opus 106. The third and fourth movements are much more convincing from Pollini; in fact, they are my preferred. Next comes Brendel, where the clarity and poetry is much more in evidence than the somewhat rushed sections of the third movement you get from Stephen Kovacevich (too much influenced by the speedster Argerich, I shouldn't wonder!!). Overall, I preferred the Brendel. It comes down to personal preference, but there isn't one single PERFORMANCE for me - so far - which has everything I'm wanting from this sonata. I'm searching for 'the unicorn', probably!! :D

Following with the score amplifies the staggering feat of memory required for these works!! For assuredly it's not just the notes but all the dynamic and tempo markings to be negotiated.

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