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Bach, Beethoven and Schumann

Johann Sebastian Bach Partita No.4 in D for keyboard, BWV.828
Robert Schumann Kinderszenen, Op.15
Ludwig van Beethoven 33 Variations on a waltz by Diabelli, Op.120

Stephen Kovacevich/piano

Queen Elizabeth Hall, 26 January 2009,

I was bewildered by this recital which we had failed to enjoy. Stephen Kovacevich has something of a cult following; I was keen to find what is behind it and joined his audience, which was a large one.

The Bach partita was fluent and held the attention of a less than wholly devoted Bachian, one who sees little point in playing Bach's keyboard music on a Steinway and in a large hall; times have moved on*.

Likewise, it seemed perverse to take up recital time with the little Schumann pieces which many of us amateur pianists will have studied at home; Kovacevich brought no special insights, so we were left by the interval with nothing but expectations of this revered Beethovenian.

In the Diabelli Variations Kovacevich fronted the uncouth, brusque and angry Beethoven, for much of the time presenting the work as dismissive of Diabelli's little theme, not interested to bring out the beauties contained.

I had, reluctantly, decided not to review this performance which sent us home greatly disappointed. But finding myself wholly in agreement with the eminent critic Andrew Clements in The Guardian, I offer these few notes with a link to his considered view.

We were supplied with Kovacevich's recent studio recording of the Bach and Beethoven, to which I shall return after a recuperative break...

Peter Grahame Woolf

*Read Elena Vorotko on the Diabelli variations played on modern piano and Graf fortepiano.