- Editor’s Choice -
"Presented with a vividness that sounds more live than studio-bound...Kovacevich has now encompassed the extremes of the work more fully..in this new version which captures the piano sound beautifully...this remarkable performance..altogether, a disc to treasure" -Harriet Smith
"His first recording helped to establish him as one of today’s pre-eminent Beethovenians. This follow-up is, if anything, even finer. He encompasses the emotional range and contrasts in the work superbly and is alive to its every nuance. Stunning" - James Inverne-Editor
Gramophone - January 2009
"Stephen Kovacevich made an acclaimed recording of Beethoven’s challenging late masterpiece, the Diabelli Variations, while still in his 20s. Forty years later he has revisited the piece with a less craggy but equally powerful performance.
Right from the opening theme, the almost ludricously slight waltz by Diabelli, we see this as a faster, lighter interpretation. The furious Variation 10 goes at a terrific lick and Variation 11 has a limpid, natural grace. But Kovacevich still gives full value to the violent contrasts of Variation 13 and the chorale-like inwardness of Variation 20. Clearly the product of a lifetime’s thought."
Daily Telegraph - 3 January 2009
"Along with the Goldberg, the Diabelli is the Everest of Variations. Kovacevch recorded it 40 years ago on Philips but it is understandable that he sould want to return to it with the insights of maturity and in up-to-the-minute sound. What we hear is not the clean, neat Beethoven of younger, fashionably "period-informed" interpreters, but a temperamental, almost explosive approach that resonates with rhythmic and nervous energy, but also leaves room for elegance, wit and introspection. Kovacevich’s journey is occasionally splashy, always engrossing and never less than Beethovenian." ****
Financial Times - 11 January 2009
"Kovacevich is clearly smirking behind the statement of Diabelli’s jovial theme. One hears his confidence as he pompously struts through the festal march that opens the 33 variations. His flights to remote keys are logical. He keeps pace with Beethoven’s inventiveness: neither has exhausted his potential by the final, tortuous fugue and gentle, self-effacing minuet. Had Beethoven written another 33, Kovacevich would have had moods to spare. His eagerness occasionally results in excessive speed as at the combination punching of variation 19 and his concentration sometimes becomes audible in the close mikes. Bach’s Partita No 4 rounds off the disc." ****
The TImes - 13 January 2009
- CD of the week -
"Forty years have passed since Kovacevich — in those days, Stephen Bishop — recorded Beethoven’s late, and greatest, set of variations, a Philips classic that has rarely been out of the catalogue. Now, with the complete cycle of the 32 sonatas behind him (for EMI), he has moved to Paul Moseley’s small, enterprising independent label, and this new Diabelli explains why he is perhaps more closely associated with this iconic, if elusive, piece than any other active pianist today. What is perhaps most surprising is that the older Kovacevich has speeded up all but a handful of the variations, in most cases by a handful of seconds, though the gain in momentum is immeasurable. The biggest difference — amounting to a rethought conception — is the Grave e maestoso (Var 14), which has lost more than a minute’s duration. Kovacevich has clearly kept abreast of modern thinking about tempo in Beethoven and, while this is not an attempt to bring “period practise” to the modern piano, it makes for bracing listening. Kovacevich has lost none of his mercurial wit or virtuosity in this music, but the expansive lyrical variations, above all the sublime largo, molto espressivo (31), emerge with transcendental beauty in his hands. The Bach Partita is, I think, new to Kovacevich’s discography and marks yet another step in the reclaiming of Bach’s keyboard works. Kovacevich has spotted Beethoven’s homage to Bach in the Fughetta (24) and the seven movements of the partita complement his Diabellis perfectly. He “sings” in the aria-like allemande and “dances” with light-footed fingers in the gigue." ****
Sunday Times - 11 January 2009
- "Outstanding" Top 10 of the Month
International Record Review
- Instrumental CD of the Month -
"[Beethoven] Penetrating insight and a thrilling physical involvement...alive and spontaneous...exciting and enormously fulfilling. [Bach].. understated and beautifully elegant. The sound is excellent." *****
BBC Music Magazine - February 2009
"Kovecevich first recorded this work almost 40 years ago when he went under the name Stephen Bishop. It was an outstanding performance then, and remains so today. Things can happen in 40 years, and there is ample justification for revisiting the music.....With undiminished technical skills Kovecevich brings more spontaneity to his new reading. His sense of color is more to the fore than in the earlier recording, and a less studied and greater improvisatory feeling emerges, without pushing Beethoven’s music to the extreme. There is only a three-minute difference between the two performances: the new one is faster, more sharply defined in the quicker variations, and more expressive in the slower ones.
Without changing the overall approach, the newer performance has subtleties and refinements that justify the purchase by the pianist’s admirers. the contrast between variations is strongly emphasised, yrt the work comes off as a total entity and reaches real catharsis in the final fugue. the performance easily joins the realm of the greats: Anderszewski, Brendel, Demidenko, Pollini, Schnabel, Serkin and Walsh. The earlier recording, now mid price, stands by itself with a total time of 54.14. This newer one includes the substantial bonus of Bach’s Partita No.4 in a performance that sets the creative juices afire as Kovacevich ornaments and sometimes romanticizes to his own flexible but not offensive needs. this is clearly nhot a performance churned out to the beat of a metronome, but who ever said that Bach’s music was inexpressive? The notes are simple and to the point. The recording leaves nothing to be desired, and all of the variations are tracked individually. This has been quite a journey for Kovacevich - from youth to white haired maturity and the wisdom of a lifetime."
American Record Review - June 2009
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