Stephen Kovacevich

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Op. 2

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Overshadowed by the more celebrated piano sonatas in Beethoven's cycle of 32, the first three that make up Op. 2 are nonetheless important, imaginative works that should be accorded more attention than they receive. It is possible to recognize signs of things to come in these pieces, and listeners may assume that many characteristics of the later sonatas are just in embryonic form here. However, to consider Beethoven's early works in light of his later achievements is to diminish their significance, as if they were mere trial pieces or insufficient in character and substance. Stephen Kovacevich certainly regards them as fully developed works of their time, and plays the first three sonatas with an awareness of their place in Beethoven's chronology. Shaping them properly along Classical lines, with appropriate nods to Haydn and Mozart, Kovacevich avoids the temptations of anachronism and portrays the Beethoven of 1796 as accurately as possible. With grace and wit, he conveys the sonatas' elegance and vitality; and he treats the occasional eruptions of storminess as expressions of late-eighteenth century Sturm und Drang, rather than as violent explosions of nineteenth century Romanticism. The disc's sound is clean, though EMI's recording seems a little too close to the piano, so volume is best kept to mid-level.

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