Lorenz guest introduces Takemitsu to Fresno audience
Renowned Beethoven interpreter warms November audience.
By George Warren - November 29, 2010
Pianist Stephen Kovacevich dropped in Sunday and performed a recital in the Concert Hall at California State University Fresno, presented by the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts. On this cold November afternoon, Kovacevich both warmed the ear with early and late Beethoven sonatas and chilled the spine with an early work by Toru Takemitsu.
Itís refreshing to hear music written by composers we might have known or met like Takemitsu. The Japanese composer was lionized in the U.S. in toward the end of the 20th century, and died in 1996. Kovacevich performed a short work titled Pause ininterrompue. The three movements feature tone clusters, a moderate range of dynamics, and lone notes at the low end of the keyboard. While one doesnít listen for thematic material in this music, one enjoys the unusual flow of harmony and the surprising resolutions of the dissonance.
Kovacevich has a clear vision of how this music should go. He set the music delicately, did not rush, and let the music breathe. This music might not be on everyoneís list of favorites, but this pianist might be, and to hear him playing something as fresh as Takemitsu was a pleasure.
He opened the program with a rarely played sonata by Beethoven: Op. 10, No. 1 in C minor, followed by Op. 110 in A-flat major. Kovacevich has recorded the cycle of sonatas by Beethoven and is clearly comfortable with these works. He presented them with reasonable accuracy, although he had an unfortunate tendency to play light and fast parts a bit too lightly, thereby dropping notes. In the slow movement of the Op. 10, for example, there are several decorative phrases intended to be played very fast, and Kovacevich either simply missed the phrases or found too little response from the piano. In either case, the ear was unable to hear the flowing melody, instead one heard a jumble that had no direction.
On the upside, Kovacevich creates a sense of the whole with Beethoven. He appears to have the vision to merge the three movements into one identifiable spirit. One is not inclined to clap between movements because this pianist makes it clear that the composition is not finished until the end of the last movement.
With the final work on the program, Schubertís B-flat major Sonata, D.960, Kovacevich took a very loose approach in terms of rhythm and accuracy. The overall effect of this approach created an illusion of ownership by the pianist, but the score suffered in the outer movements.
In particular, the first movement has many extraordinary moments where time seems suspended, and the imagination is freed to bask in the divine combination of themes and harmonies. Kovacevich missed much of this as a result of an extremely liberal tempo rubato and an emphasis on the wrong voice. For example, there are a lot of repeating notes throughout the movement, and once or twice it may be clever to bring those to the foreground to draw the listenerís attention, but not at a moment when some of the special notes in other voices are more important.
The middle movements were quite well done, especially the slow second movement. Here, the pianist had everything in order. He kept a steady pulse with the repeating octave figure, and he carried the sustained melodies all the way through the accompanying voices, coming out at the other end with just enough volume. The final movement came off with all the energy it needed, but it wanted consistent accuracy.