Sequeira Costa’s Glacial “Hammerklavier”

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

Sequeira Costa’s recording of Beethoven’s mighty “Hammerklavier” sonata clocks in 51:25, which gives an accurate indication of the veteran pianist’s glacial tempos. Costa’s robust, full-bodied tone and excellent ability to balance Beethoven’s gnarly contrapuntal textures hold interest. Yet his occasional broadenings of tempos that already are super slow belabor the point, such as in the first movement’s second theme, when the trills kick in, or in the weighty transition into the recapitulation featuring alternating broken fifths and sixths (here Costa opts for the “correct” A-natural that Rudolf Serkin, Alfred Brendel, and Wilhelm Kempff favored, rather than the startling “incorrect” A-sharp played by Claudio Arrau, Peter Serkin, Solomon, and Artur Schnabel).

At least the ambling rather than sprinting fugal finale sustains its pace from start to finish, while the expansive, vocally oriented Adagio easily befits Costa’s aesthetic. The unusually protracted Scherzo allows one to focus on the Trio section’s rhythmic displacements, as if looking at the music under a microscope. Right before the climactic upward F major scales, Costa makes a sudden, unexpected and unwritten accelerando, and during that brief moment the young firebrand Costa usurps the old lion. For a slow-to-moderate Hammerklavier, Rudolf Serkin’s gaunter, edgier brand of nervous energy better suits the music’s monumental design, as does Kempff’s antipodal, intimately scaled conception.

There’s no doubting Costa’s authority and experience, but to hear this great pianist on prime form, seek out his Rachmaninov Concertos and Transcriptions, Chopin Etudes, Schumann Carnaval, Ravel Gaspard de la nuit, and a Marco Polo release devoted to music of José Vianna da Motta.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol. 9
Reference Recording: Arrau (Philips); Levit (Sony); Goode (Nonesuch); Schenck (Piano Classics)

  • Sequeira Costa (piano)

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