Stephen Kovacevich Mastery and Mystery at St Mary’s with Tamsin Whaley-Cohen

Thursday April 22 4.00 pm 

Stephen Kovacevich (piano)
Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin) 

Beethoven: Piano Sonata in A flat op 110 Moderato cantabile,molto espressivo-Allegro molto-Adagio ma non troppo-Fuga allegro ma non troppo

Bach Allemande from the 4th Partita

Debussy: Violin Sonata in G minor

What a treat on these wonderful spring days to hear music played by a master.
Playing of almost whispered intimacy as Stephen Kovacevich shared the secrets of a lifetime ,living with the respect,intimacy and love that was divulged to a teenager from Los Angeles whom Myra Hess had taken under her wing more than half a century ago.
Playing with the intimacy that I have only heard from Kempff in his later years where the piano ceases to become a percussion instrument and every note sings or vibrates in sympathy with Beethoven at peace with the world.
It was very moving to realise that the Debussy sonata was also his last work and was in fact the last time that Debussy was heard in public.
The Allemande from the Fourth Partita by Bach was played with a luminous beauty and the stillness of music that is Universal.
If music be the food of love ……….play on.
A magical moment and an example to all the young virtuosi that Hugh Mather and his team very generously support.
It is quality not quantity that remains in the soul and enriches us forever

… and here is the recital

Stephen had played four recitals in my series in Rome between 1992 and 2004 .Always a cherished occasion for the programmes that he brought of Bach ,Brahms,Beethoven and Schubert,bathed as he was in the glorious tradition that Myra Hess had bequeathed to him.As a schoolboy in London I remember his memorable performances of Beethoven fourth concerto with Boulez coupled as it was with the Elgar Concerto with Jaqueline Du Pré in the same concerts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on their early tours of America.I remember ,years later on one of his visits to Rome,when he decided the piano was more suited to Schubert’s last A major sonata rather than to the B flat that had been announced .He asked if he could change programme which was no problem for him as this music was such an integral part of his being.I notice too that in his first and last concerts for us he included the Sonata op 110 by Beethoven which he played today in Perivale in the charming deconsacrated church whose walls now ring with the sound of music.And what music was heard today where this work that was so much part of Myra Hess’s repertoire showed us that more than any other of the Beethoven Sonatas it is a great song from the first to the last note.Stephen,sitting very low as always – in Rome he asked if he could chop a few inches of the stool to make it even lower-as he barely seemed to depress the keys with no fuss or unnecessary histrionics but just listening so carefully to the sounds that were concealed in his very passionate but also intelligent soul.

There were wondrous homogeneous sounds from the very first notes and the opening trill just flowed with a natural simplicity from the heartwarming indication of Beethoven ‘con amabilità’ to the sublime ‘cantabile con intimissimo sentimento,ma sempre molto dolce e semplice’ – to quote Schnabel.The ethereal broken chords just fluttered over the keys in a vibration of sounds with the gentle bass chords just hinted at.The deep bass trills too were just vibrations of sound leading to a momentary passionate outpouring before the magical transitions to the development.The move from Eflat to Dflat was judged to perfection and created the mood for the opening theme accompanied by the subtle swelling of the cello voices where Beethoven’s very intricate indications were translated into sound with such clarity and meaning.The supreme legato of the coda was something to marvel at indeed and gave creed to Dame Fanny’s remark that people do not know how to ‘mould’ any more!The Allegro molto of the scherzo was played in a subdued manner and not the usual rumbustuous intrusion that lesser mortals offer.The clipped chords at the end just made the rests more meaningful.The treacherous trio section was made to sing instead of spitting blood and was a tour de force of control.There was a hushed opening to the Adagio of such calm and beauty.The mystery of the più adagio answered by the calm chords of the Andante and the gentle vibration of the high A opened a world of pure magic where the arioso dolente sang with a deeply personal voice that was even more moving on its return as it interrupts the fugue.A simple almost whispered eloquence as was the fugal last movement where his sense of finger legato was to marvel at indeed.I liked the pause between the end of the fugue and the change of key to the arioso ‘perdendo le forze ,dolente’.The staccato chords barely touched before growing in sound as Beethoven opens the chords with pedal to create a cloud on which the fugue ,now inverted,floats to take us to the ever more agitated movement on which the theme is allowed to bask in it’s ultimate glory with such a passionate outpouring of overwhelming commitment.

A serene work of Bach was the only possible reply to such words of worldly wisdom.From Stephen’s renowned performance of the Fourth Partita by Bach he chose just the Allemande that was played with a luminous simplicity where the music was simply allowed to unfold and tell its own wondrous story.

The Debussy Sonata was an intimate performance between friends.Some magnificent violin playing integrated so beautifully with the subtle sounds from the piano and was a joy and privilege to be abie to eavesdrop.

The sonata for violin and piano in G minor, L. 140, was written in 1917. It was the composer’s last major composition and the premiere took place on 5 May 1917, the violin part played by Gaston Poulet with Debussy himself at the piano. It was his last public performance.

The work has three movements:Allegro vivo Intermède: Fantasque et léger Finale: Très animé.From 1914, the composer, encouraged by the music publisher Jacques Durand,intended to write a set of six sonatas for various instruments, in homage to the French composers of the 18th centuryThe First World War , along with the composers Couperin and Rameau , inspired Debussy as he was writing the sonatas.Durand, in his memoirs entitled Quelques souvenirs d’un éditeur de musique, wrote the following about the sonatas’ origin:After his famous String Quartet, Debussy had not written any more chamber music. Then, at the Concerts Durand, he heard again the Septet with trumpet by Saint-Saëns and his sympathy for this means of musical expression was reawoken. He admitted the fact to me and I warmly encouraged him to follow his inclination. And that is how the idea of the six sonatas for various instruments came about.In a letter to the conductor Bernard Molinari, Debussy explained that the set should include “different combinations, with the last sonata combining the previously used instruments”. His death on 25 March 1918 prevented him from carrying out his plan, and only three of the six sonatas were completed and published by Durand.

Stephen Kovacevich is widely recognised as one of the most revered artists of his generation. With an international career spanning more than six decades, he has long been recognised as one of the most searching interpretors – “A musician completely absorbed in his craft, his interpretations are like no one else’s and always eminate directly from the heart: musical messages of wisdom, peace, resignation, and hope” (The Washington Post). He is known for never being afraid to take both technical and musical risks in order to achieve maximum expressive impact. Through this, he has won unsurpassed admiration for his piano-playing, none more than from Leopold Stokowski , who famously wrote: “You do with your feet what I try to do with my Philadelphia Orchestra” . Born in Los Angeles, Kovacevich laid the foundation for his career as concert pianist at the age of eleven. After moving to England to study with Dame Myra Hess, he made his European debut at Wigmore Hall in 1961. Since then, he has appeared with many of the world’s finest orchestras and conductors, including Hans Graf , Bernard Haitink , Kurt Masur , Yannick Nezet-Seguin , Sir Simon Rattle , and the late Sir Georg Solti . As concerto soloist, recent and forthcoming highlights include Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon , Los Angeles Philharmonic/Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla , Orchestre symphonique de Montréal/David Zinman , Sydney Symphony/Vladimir Ashkenazy , and the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony/Sylvain Cambreling . In recital, recent and forthcoming highlights include performances in Europe, Asia, and the United States – including the NCPA (Bejing), the Phillips Collection (Washington), the Bridgewater Hall (Manchester), and the Wigmore Hall (London). Kovacevich also performs regularly across the Far East, Australia, and New Zealand, and is a regular guest at prestigious festivals worldwide – including Lugano , Verbier , and the Mariinsky International Piano Festival (the latter by personal invitation of Valery Gergiev ). Over the course of his extensive career, Kovacevich has forged many long-standing artistic partnerships, such as that with the late Sir Colin Davis with whom he made numerous outstanding recordings, including the legendary Bartok Piano Concerto No.2 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Another such long-term affiliation is his professional partnership with Martha Argerich , with whom he regularly performs in duo on the world’s leading concert stages. Recent and forthcoming highlights for the Argerich-Kovacevich Duo include recitals at Het Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Philharmonie (Paris), Victoria Hall (Geneva), the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Los Angeles), and the Wigmore Hall (London). He is a committed chamber musician, with collaborations over the course of his long career including with such luminaries as the late Lynn Harrell , Jacqueline du Pré , and Joseph Suk . Kovacevich now enjoys regular artistic collaborations with such violinists as Nicola Benedetti , Renaud Capuçon , and Alina Ibragimova ; cellists Gautier Capuçon , Steven Isserlis , and Truls Mørk ; flautist Emmanuel Pahud ; and the Amadeus , Belcea , and Cleveland quartets. Stephen Kovacevich has enjoyed an illustrious long-term relationship with recording companies Philips and EMI. To celebrate his 75 th birthday, Decca released a Limited Edition 25-CD Box Set of his entire recorded legacy for Philips. In 2008, he re-recorded Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations , exactly 40 years after his first recording of the work. This Onyx recording won him the Classic FM Gramophone Editor’s Choice Award (2009) and the Gramophone Magazine Top Choice Award (2015), to quote: “His seasoned yet fearless mastery reveals something new with each hearing…” .

Born in London, Tamsin Waley-Cohen enjoys an adventurous and varied career. In addition to concerts with the Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Hallé, Liverpool Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony, Royal Northern Sinfonia and BBC orchestras, amongst others, she has twice been associate artist with the Orchestra of the Swan and works with conductors including Andrew Litton, Vasily Petrenko, Ben Gernon, Ryan Bancroft and Tamás Vásáry. Her duo partners include James Baillieu and Huw Watkins. She gave the premiere of Watkins’ Concertino, and in Summer 2020 will premiere a new work for violin and piano with him at Wigmore Hall. She is thrilled to be a Signum Classics Artist. With her sister, composer Freya Waley-Cohen, and architects Finbarr O’Dempsey and Andrew Skulina, she held an Open Space residency at Aldeburgh, culminating in the 2017 premiere of Permutations at the Aldeburgh Festival, an interactive performance artwork synthesising music and architecture. Her love of chamber music led her to start the Honeymead Festival, now in its twelth year, from which all proceeds go to support local charities. She is a founding member of the Albion string quartet, appearing regularly with them at venues including Wigmore Hall, Aldeburgh Festival, and the Concertgebouw. In 2016-2017 she was the UK recipient of the ECHO Rising Stars Awards, playing at all the major European concert halls and premiering Oliver Knussen’s Reflection, written especially for her and Huw Watkins. In the 2018-19 season she toured Japan and China, and gave her New York Debut recital at the Frick.She is Artistic Director of the Two Moors Festival, and has previously been Artistic Director of the Music Series at the Tricyle Theatre, London, and the Bargello festival in Florence. She studied at the Royal College of Music and her teachers included Itzhak Rashkovsky, Ruggiero Ricci and András Keller.


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