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Kovacevich is a robust pianist, not given to sweetness of effect nor ingratiating indulgence. He offers a severe and unflinching traversal of these works; this is Beethoven conceived as intellectually rigorous, as well as dramatically potent. Kovacevich's dynamic range is wide, his sense of attack vigorous and at times aggressively urgent. It is necessarily the case that such an approach will yield different benefits in different works and perhaps in the slighter works Kovacevich does lack the last degree of relaxation and simple pleasure, but in the major works he delivers performances as rewarding as one could hope for. Having admired this artist's earlier recordings and having often heard him in recital, I can say that the new set lives up to the high expectations I had of it. I suspect that if you are an admirer of, for example, Alfred Brendel then these performances will probably not be to your taste; there is nothing picturesque or restrained here. One can pick fault with odd performances, but when it comes to the major works Kovacevich is very good indeed. I would point to Ops 109 and 111 as particularly special (as great in their way as Pollini's famous recordings) as well as Ops 13, 53, 57 and 81a. Indeed I have never really seen what the fuss is about regarding the "Appassionata": until now. Perhaps more surprisingly the opening of the "Moonlight" Sonata is handled beautifully, with a performance so straight and unaffected that it manages to supplant memories of all those meretricious, overweening readings one has heard in the past. There is a consistency to Kovacevich's approach that, though it leaves a few areas untouched, allows one to follow the logic of Beethoven's development across the genre. In short if you want a complete set of Beethoven Sonatas that is challenging, rigorously conceived and avoids affectation you will not be disappointed with this issue.

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