Saturday, October 17, 2020

Wigmore Hall, London

On the date of his eightieth-birthday, Stephen Kovacevich started his celebratory Wigmore Hall recital with J. S. Bach’s D-major Partita (BWV828). The opening ‘Ouvertüre’ was majestic and malleable, nimble too, later slower movements sublime and sensitive, casting a spell (the ‘Allemande’ especially, also the ‘Sarabande’), with dance numbers made spry, lucid and dynamically subtle.

Schubert’s ultimate Piano Sonata (B-flat, D960) was equally distinguished as a listening experience (good broadcast sound on YouTube, Wigmore Hall’s own in-house relay being unavailable): a necessarily Moderato tempo for the opening movement yet with a sense of direction – a compelling mix of purpose and beyond-the-horizon vision, if, on this occasion yet convincingly, without repeating the exposition and therefore the lead-back fortissimo (otherwise quietly ominous) bass trill, which Kovacevich does include on his 1982 Hyperion recording. The slow movement was suitably desolate, if rallying at its hymn-like midpoint; the Scherzo sparkled at quite a nippy speed, rather mercurial, the Trio continuing in relationship; and the Finale (launched attacca) went with a will and a certain determination, not least in the defiant coda.

In both works, the odd awkwardness and smudge counted for nothing when set against Kovacevich’s lifetime’s experience in this music, returning in triumph to the venue where he made his European debut in 1961. His Schumann encore – an intimate Romance from Opus 28 – was ineffably lovely.

Available until November 17