Notes and Editorial Reviews
A recital that goes right to the composer's innermost, secretive heart.
Bishop-Kovacevich is up against two Leeds prize-winners and a late-lamented artist whose Brahms has held its place in the catalogue for 21 years. All four are deeply affectionate and mellow. But my first choice is Bishop-Kovacevich, who finds the intimacy of the Intermezzos without self-conscious search and who in stormier Capriccios and Rhapsodies combines enormous verve with rock-like stability and strength.
I was puzzled by only one thing—his tempo for the E minor Intermezzo, Op. 116 No. 5. It's surely too fast for an Andante qualified by words including intimissimo sentimento. It's certainly too fast for the chromaticism and
detached phrases to tell... The excitable G minor Capriccio, Op. 116 No. 3, brings a few seconds of coarsened sound... My third passing raising-of-an-eyebrow was in the C sharp minor Intermezzo, Op. 117 No. 3, where I thought a more gleaming treble at the move into A major would have helped to heighten contrast after earlier shadowy stealthiness.
But how insignificant these quibbles in comparison with all in the recital that goes right to the composer's innermost, secretive heart. Bishop-Kovacevich seems wiser than Lupu (Decca) in not always putting so much emphasis on melody (as in th B flat minor Intermezzo, Op. 117 No. 2), sometimes wiser than both Lupu and Alexeev in choice of tempo and wiser, even, than the loving Katchen in avoiding occasional caprice in rubato. Of the more intimate pieces, I think the B minor Intermezzo Op. 119 No. 1, brings clearest proof of his maturer poise. At the opposite extreme no one quite matches his brio and bite—and the richness of his contrasts—in the E flat Rhapsody, Op. 119 No. 4.
-- Joan Chissell, Gramophone [12/1985, reviewing the original release of Kovacevich playing Op. 116, 117 and 119, Philips 411137]
To a great extent, this is Brahms heaven. All three pianists are wonderfully Brahmsian, most of all Stephen Kovacevich, whose powerful performances are full-blooded and great-hearted – a really ideal Brahms player. Dinorah Varsi, too, is fiery and exciting and Adam Harasiewicz gives a virtuoso rendering of the Paganini Variations. Complaints: the rather odd tagging-on at the end of the first disc of the G minor Op. 79 Rhapsody and the inevitable fluctuation in sound quality between different recordings made between 1969 and 1985. Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 4 (out of 5)
-- Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine
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