Double Play: Stephen Johnson and Edward Seckerson review inspirational Beethoven and a rapid but reverberant War Requiem

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The Independent Culture
BRITTEN: War Requiem

Soloists, Monteverdi Choir,

NDR SO and Chorus / Gardiner

(DG 437 801-2: two CDs)

ST MARY'S, Lubeck, responds to all but the quietest details with generous reverberation. Rich textures emerge through a heavy acoustic fog. John Eliot Gardiner conveys the work's dramatic unity as surely as if he were directing one of the great operas: choral singing and playing are excellent, and the soloists are, as they should be, the focus of it all, especially Anthony Rolfe Johnson, as so often the master of the intensely expressive pianissimo. The final hymn, united in radiant supplication, is a true apotheosis; if only the recording had given a bit of perspective. SJ

EARLY music specialist at work. A bell tolls, the procession moves off, but 'slow and solemn' to Gardiner is a fluent pulse with rhythms so precise, so literal that the boundaries of time are not blurred at all. So it goes on: lighter, leaner articulations, stricter note-values - objectivity in everything.

Wilfred Owen's poems are perhaps the more moving for the simple, dispassionate, understated readings of Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Boje Skovhus - both excellent, as is the soprano Luba Orgonasova. But in the Libera Me Gardiner, pressing on, undermines the moment of catastrophe. Like so much here, it's diminishing. ES

BEETHOVEN: Sonatas -

'Waldstein', Op 78, Op 110

Stephen Kovacevich (piano)

(EMI CDC 7 64896 2)

THIS is so nearly a perfect Beethoven disc. Are the little 'broken' pauses in the return of Op 110's Arioso just a touch histrionic? I'm not sure, nor about the pedalling as the Arioso melts into the fugal theme, though the following return to life is tremendous.

The other two sonatas are outstanding. Kovacevich's 'Waldstein' is symphonic; the piano sound is almost orchestral. Yet in Op 78 I began to wonder if there were any more beautiful textures in the piano repertory. SJ

UNMISTAKABLY inspirational, happening performances. There's an inevitability about the playing, a very real sense in which Kovacevich, like Beethoven, is surprising even himself - the way he seeks and finds the Arioso theme of Op 110, the way it reemerges from beyond consciousness to disrupt the fugue.

The Waldstein forges ahead on the insistence of a motoric left hand (splendid sweep to the sonority as the Rondo theme takes off). But it's in the dark, secretive introduction to the finale that we really hear Beethoven's - and Kovacevich's - inspiration distilled.