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I recently watched “Stephen Kovacevich at the Verbier
Festival Academy,” a 2009 DVD installment in the excellent
Masterclass Media Foundation series. Kovacevich (1940 – )
is one of many pianists who have both performed and
recorded all 32 of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.
Although I’ve never heard his Beethoven recordings or
seen him perform, I understand that his cycle of these
works is highly regarded. Therefore, I eagerly anticipated
watching this DVD, which featured Beethoven’s
“Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Opus 53,” commonly known
as the “Waldstein,” and his “Sonata No. 31 in A Flat
Major, Opus 110.”

Claire Huangci (1990 – ) was his pupil for the “Waldstein,”
which is one of Beethoven’s most well-known Sonatas,
dating from 1804. Watching and hearing her play it was
impressive, and I guess I could be forgiven for thinking
that her performance was “just fine.” After listening to her
play most of the first movement, Kovacevich also
commended her playing in general; however, he then
began the “fine-tuning” process, with the aim of turning
her “good” performance into a “great” one. He began his
comments by observing that her choice of tempo was a
bit slow, and continued his input as to how to make the
piece more effective.

When Pavel Kolesnikov (1989 – ) took the stage to play
the lesser-known “Opus 110,” which occupied a different
sound realm from the “Opus 53,” I was interested to see
how things would progress with Kovacevich. I’m not as
familiar with this work, and looked forward to learning
more about it. I wasn’t disappointed. At nearly one hour,
this masterclass session occupied the lion’s share of this
one-hour, 41-minute DVD, and I had the opportunity to
watch and hear Kovacevich express his views of this
piece and of Beethoven in general. It became clear to me
that he’d spent a great deal of his professional life
studying this music. Even though Kolesnikov was initially
impressive, Kovacevich had a wealth of helpful suggestions,
including advice concerning the use of the pedals on the
modern Steinway grand piano and how to achieve the
right touch at various dynamic levels.

I came away from this DVD with a great respect for
Stephen Kovacevich, and was very glad that I watched this disc.