Friday, 15 July 2016

Stephen Kovacevich, Buxton Festival

STEPHEN KOVACEVICH, Buxton Festival, The Pavilion arts centre

Almost every description of the piano playing of Stephen Kovacevich includes the word ‘thoughtful’. And they’re right – from the very first note, in his recital for the Buxton Festival, it was clear how thoughtful his playing is.

He began with the sonata by Alban Berg – his opus 1 and really an essay in high chromaticism and single-movement form – and wove his spell with it in every part. The writing is extremely taxing, full of counterpoint and whimsical harmonic progressions, and it was not entirely flawless. But the sound of the Fazioli piano was clear and resonant and complemented Kovacevich’s still-clear and enviable technique.

He followed it with Schubert’s A major sonata from the end of his career, D959 – a Kovacevich speciality and delivered with mastery. He presents it as a series of falterings and hesitations, a kind of window on the composer’s psychology (including the extraordinary slow movement, which he described in a brief chat as having almost a nervous breakdown inside the music). But it was still beautiful music, and his great dynamic range ensured a sense of magic and discovery throughout the recital.

He abandoned the interval and went straight on to his Bach – Partita no. 4, BWV828 – which was pure delight, with immaculate part playing and a genuinely dancing minuet. Where there were repeats observed, they were always astonishingly varied.

But I think it was the Schubert he really wanted to share, as the recital was soon over, with just the Brahms E minor Intermezzo as a quiet encore.

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