Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 2 – Sequeira Costa – CB5572


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. 2

The year 1804 brought with it developments in Beethoven`s emotional life which led to works of a decidedly different and “heroic” character. It was this middle period in his creative life that also brought with it disappointment in his personal life. His presumed romances with both the young countess Julie Guicciardi in 1801, a romance mentioned by Beethoven in a letter of 1801 to his boyhood friend, Franz Wegeler, and to Josephine Brunsvik after 1804 were probably doomed for reason of class differences. Beethoven was “only” a musician and “piano teacher” and any endearments which may have existed between the “employees” and the nobility were soon smashed by the assumed realities of social superiority. The notions of equality, notions which were a product of the French and American Revolutions, had not yet threatened the German and Austrian courts and any presumption that an “underling” could win the hand of a Countess or of her children bordered on social treason. Of course, for Beethoven, the failure to create a permanent relationship with Josephine Brunsvik and the increasing handicaps caused by his progressive deafness drove him to emotional crisis as shown in his “Immortal Beloved” letters of 1812 and in the Heiligenstadt Testament. However, this youthful bravura which was starting to gain a foothold on his creative work, brought forth a series of innovative compositions, some of a “heroic” nature such as the 5th and 3rd symphonies but also works displaying formal innovation such as the Symphony No. 6 Pastoral, as well as pieces which combined both elements such as the Waldstein and Appassionata Sonatas on this recording as well as the opera, Fidelio and the Violin Concerto. This was the period of transition with Beethoven`s financial status steadily improving through his concerts but also through the publication of his music and from the increasing attention of and financial support by his patrons.Sometime after 1804, Beethoven wrote to his friend, Wenzel Krumpholz: “…now I am going to go new ways”. With this declaration, he began composing piano music which shed the trappings of neo-Haydn classicism and the forms of Mozart and replaced them with an originality and depth of feeling unknown at his time. This revolutionary way of viewing the term “sonata” was to have an irreversible impact on the Romantic era, especially on the works of Schumann and Chopin. After 1804, Beethoven also ceased to put his piano sonatas into sets as was the classical tradition. From this time forward, each work was an individual monument and each work was to stand alone. This period of Beethoven`s creative life was also his most productive despite his hearing loss. When the “middle period” came to an end, in 1814, Beethoven had composed countless works which have entered the standard repertoire including 17 piano sonatas written between 1801 and 1814.These years were also the “Vienna Years” and saw the passion for and later disappointment in the Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte and its impact on the composer`s work. Among the pieces to come from this influence was the ill-fated “Wellington`s Victory”. An anecdote from this time reveals the waves of emotion Beethoven felt for what, he believed, were the principles for which Napoleon stood. The original dedication planned for the 3rd Symphony, Eroica, was to have been “intitulata Bonaparte” or “written for Bonaparte”. However, after Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804, Beethoven is reported to have removed this dedication in a rage of emotion. Of course, it is also possible that the removal of the dedication to the newly-crowned Emperor also had much to do with his cancellation of a scheduled tour of Paris. It is the intense nature of these actions and of the emotional swings between absolute joy and total fury which have given us our present day impression of Beethoven. However, he was a product of his time, of the poetry of Goethe and Schiller and of a time where revolution was altering the face of Europe.

Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, Op. 53 (Waldstein) The Waldstein Sonata remains one of Beethoven`s most difficult works in performance. It is hallmarked by simultaneous trills, a high-register melody and rapid runs in the left hand with glissando octaves which alternate between left and right hands. Even today, many of the best pianists perform this work in a simplified version due to the heavier action of the modern piano, a circumstance which amplifies the work`s difficulty.

Piano Sonata No. 23 in f, Op. 57 (Appassionata) The Appassionata Sonata was composed sometime between 1804 and 1806 and was dedicated to Count Franz von Brunsvik, the father of the legendary “immortal beloved”, Josephine von Brunsvik. The name of this sonata was not applied to it by Beethoven but is a creation of later years, having been added to the score in 1838, long after the composer`s death. As is the Waldstein, the Appassionata Sonata belongs to Beethoven`s most technically difficult works and was, at its creation, regarded by Beethoven as his most tempestuous work to date.

The Piano Sonata No. 27 in c, Op. 90 is a product of the year 1814 and was dedicated to Prince Moritz von Lichnowsky to whom the composer had also dedicated his Eroica Variations. Later that same year, Beethoven sent the manuscript to the prince with his letter explaining the dedication. An excerpt from this letter of September, 1814, sheds light of the motivation behind this work. Beethoven wrote: “…I see you are resolved to continue to load me with benefits. As I am unwilling you should suppose that a step I have already taken is prompted by your recent favours, or by any motive of the sort, I must tell you that a sonata of mine is about to appear, dedicated to you. I wished to give you a surprise, as this dedication has been long designed for you, but your letter of yesterday induces me to name the fact. I required no new motive thus publicly to testify my sense of your friendship and kindness.” Clearly the motivation was financial and clearly it was intended to assure further generosity from the Prince, a motivation which Richard Wagner would pursue with great passion and success later in the century. © 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.