Title - 'Stephen Kovacevich - Complete Philips Recordings'
Artist - Stephen Kovacevich
For those not in the classical know, pianist Stephen Kovacevich is known as one of the most prominent Beethoven interpreters among living pianists. His concerto recordings for Philips, including Beethoven, Schumann and Bartók, never fail to astonish even the most demanding piano critics.
Kovacevich was born in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, to a Croatian father and an American mother. When his mother remarried, his name was changed to Stephen Bishop, the name under which he performed in his early career. He later discovered that he was often being confused with the singer and guitarist Stephen Bishop. To avoid the confusion, he began performing as Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich and later simply as Stephen Kovacevich.
He made his concert debut as a pianist at the tender age of just 11; then, at the age of 18 he moved to London to study under Dame Myra Hess on a scholarship and has been a London resident ever since, currently living in Hampstead. In 1961 he made a sensational European debut at the Wigmore Hall, playing the Sonata by Alban Berg, three Bach Preludes and Fugues and Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. He also toured Britain with Jacqueline du Pré thereafter.
Decca celebrates his 75th birthday this October by presenting his entire recorded legacy for the Philips Label in a 25CD box set, entitled, of course, Stephen Kovacevich - The Complete Philips Recordings Featuring a new essay by former Philips Classics producer David Cairns and original artwork, this incredible, truly amazing 25 CD, Limited Edition Box Set is one for the ages, trust me.
As you work your way through the CDs, which will take time, and maybe a couple or there days to completely allow to absorb, it's quickly notable that Kovacevich lavishes care and attention to every piece: for example, I’ve never heard the quasi-improvisatory chords preceding the last movement of the Emperor Concerto played with a greater sense of mystery.
Dynamics are also carefully observed, sure, but the pianist wisely takes Beethoven’s pedal markings with many grains of salt – so that the thorny passages in Op. 111’s first movement emerge with welcome clarity. For all his attention to detail, Kovacevich never allows himself to become so absorbed that he loses sight of the overall arc of each work. I think that is his great "secret," shall we say.
As a soloist and conductor, he has frequently performed and recorded works by, among others, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Bartók, and so here on Stephen Kovacevich - The Complete Philips Recordings, and being this his work on anything-Beethoven has always been my go-to for him, there simply isn’t a single Beethoven performance in this set which is less than very good; and several are outstanding.
Capping off the collection is an album of two piano music by Mozart, Debussy, and Bartok (the last of which also includes percussion), where Kovacevich is joined by Martha Argerich. The unanimity of their conception and rapport make these reference performances of these works.
The recordings range from 1968-1983, originating from both analog and digital masters. Philips has long been known for the audio quality of their recordings and this set is no exception. Every disc sounds like it was recorded from a natural perspective, with no sense of gimmicked miking or fussing with dynamic levels. Bravo, Decca. Bravo!