Thursday, June 04, 2020

Beethoven 250: Piano Sonata No. 7 (Stephen Kovacevich, 1998)

Ludwig Pietsch (1824–1911, Originalzeichnung): Beethoven beim Prinzen Louis Ferdinand. [Around 1803?]. Wood engraving by: F. P. Schindler. Cut from p. 725 of an issue of the Illustrierte Chronik der Zeit (1885). Collection: Beethoven Graphics Box 4. Repository: The Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San Jose State University. Digital Beethoven-Haus B 2129, K 70/5. From: King Library Digital Collections / San Jose Library. Please click on the image to enlarge it.

Beethoven: The Complete Works (80 CD). Warner Classics / © 2019 Parlophone Records Limited. Also available on Spotify etc. I bought my box set from Fuga at Helsinki Music Centre.
    Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827.
    Beethoven 250 / corona lockdown listening.

From: CD 18/80  Piano Sonatas Nos. 4–7
Opus 10 – Der Gräfin Anna Margarete von Browne gewidmet.
Stephen Kovacevich, 1998.

Opus 10 Nr. 3: Klaviersonate Nr. 7 in D-Dur (1798)
Erster Satz: Presto; D-Dur; alla breve; Sonatensatzform; 344 Takte
Zweiter Satz: Largo e mesto; d-moll; 6/8-Takt; freie Sonatensatzform; 87 Takte
Dritter Satz: Menuetto. Allegretto; D-Dur; 3/4-Takt; Dreiteilige Menuett-Form; 68 Takte
Vierter Satz: Rondo. Allegro; D-Dur; 4/4-Takt; Rondo-Form; 113 Takte
    This interpretation 20'54" , there are also those of 25 minutes. Sokolov: 28 min.

AA: My Beethoven Complete Works project keeps slowing down, and for a good reason. I don't listen less but focus more. When I find a work that I do not know, I need time to digest.

The greatest treasure so far of the works previously unfamiliar to me is Opus 10 Nr. 3: Klaviersonate Nr. 7 in D-Dur. I have been listening to it daily since two weeks now, and probably it is now in my dreams, too, because I often wake up to one of its passages.

András Schiff in his humorous Guardian lectures laments the fact that this sonata is not better known. Already Beethoven himself was flabbergasted that the Moonlight sonata was so popular and the much better Opus 10 Number 3 less so. Schiff quips that perhaps what is missing is a catchy title like Moonlight or Pathétique.

Again I start with my official menu: Stephen Kovacevich. Again, his performance is correct, perfect and immaculate. I cannot say it's uninspired. But a conviction seems to be missing about the deep currents of the piece. In Kovacevich's hands this work is not the vibrant magnificent creature of the composer's vision.

In physical exercise we know the concept of "the core". We must be aware of the three layers of muscles in the abdominal wall and train them. They are the core upon which all other exercise is based.

In Beethoven's compositions there is a powerful core. When you achieve that, you win an extraordinary freedom of expression, and still everything connects and builds to an exciting and living whole. All pianists have not succeeded in understanding the core of Opus 10 Number 3.

Listening further I discover great interpretations by Angela Hewitt (who recently completed a full cycle of recordings of Beethoven's piano sonatas), Alfred Brendel (very convincing) and Claudio Arrau (with a refined surface sheen and strong metal muscles beneath). Wilhelm Kempff is meditative, Paavali Jumppanen perhaps a bit hasty. All original.

Angela Hewitt has called this work the first masterpiece among Beethoven's piano sonatas. For Donald Tovay it was "a landmark in music history". Wilhelm von Lenz said it's "his most symphonic sonata". Anton Rubinstein was amazed how suprisingly capricious and amiable certain passages were. Romain Rolland found in it "the whole of Beethoven". For Schiff it's a "miracle of music".

The contrasts are extreme. From the sunlit first movement Beethoven plunges into the absolute night of the largo e mesto movement. It is of breathtaking tragic depth, Ultima Thule, the end of the world. But an extremely slow pulse of life continues, until a flicker of light appears.

The first two movements are like Finland. Now we have the first movement; in Lapland there is midnight sun. In mid-winter there are months without sunlight in Lapland. That time is called kaamos. Beethoven's second movement is like that.

For Schiff, Number One of Opus 10 is drama, Number Two is comedy and Number Three an enigma. Schiff is amazed at Beethoven's ability to weave such a magnificent work from such limited elements: "how much can you do with four notes".

One of Beethoven's beloved summer forest walks (the first movement) leads to his mother's grave and intimations of his own fatal illness and mortality (the second movement). The synthesis is a joyful reaffirmation of life (the lovely third movement), followed by a capricious flight of fancy ending in nothingness.


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