Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 1 – Sequeira Costa – CB5571


Sequeira Costa was one of the last students of José Vianna da Motta, a student of Franz Liszt!

“I recommend Costa’s performances of the first two sonatas for their admirable, cultured piano playing”


**The Complete ‘Beethoven 250’ Piano Sonata CD Box set is now available! See CB6046**

Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1

As we begin this traversal of the complete piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) it seems as if we are looking into the mirror of musical history. In the almost 250 years since the composer`s birth, the musical winds have altered our perception of these works and put them in their rightful place as the prototype of contemporary music creation. Looking at the sonatas of Beethoven, viewed from this distance of a quarter millennium, is comparable to the Salvador Dalí portrait “Dali Seen from the Back Painting Gala from the Back” in which the painter takes us on a journey through space and time using mirrors to transcend the reality of what should have been a simple portrait of his wife. The piano sonatas of Beethoven are such a musical mirror, a portrait of musical development to his time and a lantern casting light into a much more liberated future. The sonatas of Op. 2 are clearly homage to his teacher, Haydn, but also a point of reverence to Mozart who had died just four years prior to their composition. At the time of their composition, Haydn was an elderly man, although still active, and an influence on his younger pupil albeit with Beethoven later expressing his dissatisfaction with Haydn as a teacher. It is perhaps this active influence that places the Opus 2 sonatas firmly in the classical era. Of course, the passion of Beethoven`s father, Johann, to repeat with his son the successes enjoyed by Leopold Mozart in his promotion of the young Wolfgang bound Beethoven to the classical traditions at an early age while also planting the seeds of his rebellious and innovative works of later years. It is this desire to imitate the engagement of Leopold Mozart that also led to an abused childhood. Beginning at the age of five, Beethoven`s musical education was hallmarked by its harshness and insensitivity. He was dragged from his bed, often in tears, and forced to assume his place at the keyboard. This inhumanity was promulgated by his then piano teacher, Tobias Friedrich Pfeiffer, a notorious insomniac, who also demanded of the youth long and late-night sessions. The young Beethoven was clearly suffering from emotional cruelty at the hands of his father who was also a notorious alcoholic but also from a serious degree of sleep deprivation. Johann`s passion to succeed with his young son was so intense that, as Beethoven turned 7 years old, the father insisted on continuing to promote him as a 5 year old or 6 year old on posters and advertising for his concerts as Wunderkind. Things improved after 1779 when Beethoven began his studies with Christian Neefe in Bonn and, later, as assistant organist at the Court Chapel there. Sometime in 1787, Beethoven entertained the idea of studying with Mozart and journeyed to Vienna but there are no details of any interaction with the composer and the young Beethoven returned to Bonn after only two weeks. It was in 1790 that Beethoven was first introduced to Haydn and his studies with him began sometime around 1792. Mozart had died in 1791 and Beethoven, having established himself at this young age as a major piano virtuoso and talented composer, was now on the path which would change music forever. It was around this time that Beethoven`s friend and publisher, Simrock, began publishing his works, the first of which were a set of variations.

Piano Sonata in f minor, Op. 2, No. 1 Although firmly embedded in Haydn`s sense of musical structure and tonal integrity, Beethoven still looked upon Mozart as the model for his earlier works, especially for his music for solo piano. Especially in the first piano sonata, such Mozartean influences were clearly prevalent and make of the first sonata almost a posthumous work of the now deceased master. Of this sonata, Donald Francis Tovey wrote: “Sir Hubert Parry has aptly compared the opening of [this sonata] with that of the finale of Mozart’s g minor symphony to show how much closer Beethoven’s texture is. The slow movement … well illustrates the rare cases in which Beethoven imitates Mozart to the detriment of his own proper richness of tone and thought, while the finale in its central episode brings a misapplied and somewhat diffuse structure in Mozart’s style into a direct conflict with themes as Beethovenish in their terseness as in their sombre passion.”

Piano Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 2, No. 2 With the second sonata in the opus, Beethoven returns to his homage of Haydn and Mozart but with a work which is far beyond the structural and harmonic realities either of these composers knew. This is a work full of humour, a humour created through the unexpected and Beethoven surprises us at every turn with a work which, although highly original, does still manage to wink an eye at Mozart whose humorous excursions not only surprise but also delight as does the opening of Mozart`s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.

Piano Sonata No. 3 in C, Op. 2, No. 3 We write the year 1796 and, here and for the first time, Beethoven creates a virtuosic work known for its length and the challenges it places on the pianist. Still exerting his reverence for Haydn to whom it is dedicated, it culminates in a lightning fast finale which, to this day, still presents significant pianistic and technical challenges. © 2016 Kevin Wood.

In a career spanning five decades, Sequeira Costa has developed his own musical interpretation from an understanding of the German and French schools, acquired through studies with his teacher, Vianna da Motta (one of the last pupils of Liszt and Hans von Bulow), Mark Hamburg, Edwin Fischer, Marguerite Long and Jacques Fevrier. He has performed at the greatest halls around the world, including the Salle Gaveau and Salle Pleyel in Paris, the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Tokyo’s Suntori Hall,

St. Petersburg’s Philharmonic Hall, the Vienna Musikverein, New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and the major London halls. He recently completed performances of the entire cycle of Beethoven Sonatas at Gulbenkian Hall in Lisbon, Portugal.

Review: I – Fanfare Magazine (Jan/Feb 2014)

Sequeira Costa, a Portuguese pianist born in Angola in 1928, was one of the last students of José Vianna da Motta, a student of Liszt. He later worked in Europe with Mark Hambourg, Marguerite Long, Jacques Fevrier, and Edwin Fischer, a group of individualistic pianists from varied traditions whose influence might suggest that Costa would play in a more subjective, less modern style than he does here. In Beethoven’s first three sonatas, he comes across as a scrupulous, refined player, a bit self-effacing, and carefully attuned to the classical style.

After an early European career, Costa taught at the University of Kansas for many decades, and has made quite a few recordings of music ranging from encores to major concertos. I learned about him not from this bare bones Claudio release, which has no booklet, but online. (The photo on the CD cover shows him as a young man).

These recordings are reissues of a complete Beethoven sonata cycle from 1999 that I haven’t heard. Claudio’s sound is clean and not overly reverberant, suited to Costa’s very precise approach. His playing is admirably true to the letter of the scores, and often to their spirit, with little or no imposition of personal mannerisms or exaggeration, no “point making” in choices of tempos, voicings, articulations, etc. This is not to say that the playing is bland or mechanical—it isn’t. The music, in most cases, is brought to life with buoyant rhythm, elegantly rounded phrasing, and sensitive characterization—but Costa’s interpretations favor the music’s balance and well-manneredness, as opposed to its more arch or arrogant aspects. Costa’s thorough observation of the scores’ details is notable.

The First Sonata’s controlled Sturm und Drang is particularly well communicated. Sonata No. 2 receives a Mozartian reading, controlled, charming, and carefully articulated. Both performances are notable for their rhythmic control.

In Sonata No. 3, a work of larger dimensions than the first two sonatas, Costa’s steadiness starts to feel metronomic. This is Beethoven’s most Clementi-like sonata, bold and humorous, with much repetitive passagework. (Beethoven’s next sonata, op. 7, one of the greatest of the 32, represents a huge increase in mastery). Costa reins in the first movement’s mock grandiosity, inhibiting the music’s need to transcend the feeling of four beats to the bar, and he doesn’t create striking enough contrasts between passages that mimic solo and tutti concerto elements. The fourth movement also calls for more playfulness than Costa supplies, his approach being too bound by the beats. It’s by no means a bad performance, just a bit tame.

I recommend Costa’s performances of the first two sonatas for their admirable, cultured piano playing. Paul Orgel.