Even a mediocre performance of the "Waldstein" can thrill the pulse, so visceral are the emotions Beethoven locates. This ballade-like sonata, with barely a middle movement, pauses only briefly before galloping into its battle royal of a rondo. Stephen Kovacevich charges into the fray with the score between his teeth. You see flashes of blood in his sforzandos. You see the whites of his eyes as he springs, huffing and puffing, into the buffeting roil of chords and trills. He pounds the hell out it, and it's great! Choose Brendel for clean lines and thematic divisions that wipe their feet before entering. Kovacevich hardly lifts the pedal before forging on with his monument.
This great performance (the other sonatas are competitive with the best, if you will accept that critical minim) is aided immeasurably by the spectacular sound. The soundstage has unusual depth, yet the Steinway's overtones are as immediate and tingling as if you were leaning against the piano itself. Everything about this recording is resoundingly alive.
Copyright © 1997, Robert J. Sullivan