Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol. 5 – Sequeira Costa – CB5575


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. 5

Of the composers who best represent the Romantic era in music, the singularly most famous but also the most enigmatic is Ludwig van Beethoven. Perhaps the enigmatic character of this composer finds its roots in his family situation, in the chronic consumptive condition of his mother, a sickness which progressively worsened following the family`s return to Bonn in 1787, and in the regular beatings he experienced at the hands of his father whose ambitious goals for his highly-talented son and whose increasing bouts with alcohol addiction render a portrait of a thoroughly dysfunctional family where, as a centrepiece, stood the development of a musical genius.

This explains much about Beethoven`s isolation and failure to establish long, trusting and loving relationships with women, a situation made more severe by the intrusion of deafness into his middle years. However, it is this very dysfunctional environment which seems to have engendered a unique creative spark and brought into the world musical works of an unusual profundity which confound listeners and musicians even to this day.

The piano sonatas of Beethoven have been referred to by Hans von Bülow as the “New Testament of Music”, the “Old Testament” being the Well-Tempered Clavier of Johann Sebastian Bach. They represent the first contiguous cycle of piano works whose intent was concert performance and not instruction or technique development. They are works intended to be the focal points of a concert evening and to show the lyrical and technical mastery of the soloist, of whom Beethoven was regarded to have been one of the finest pianists of his time.

PIANO SONATA NO. 12 in A-flat, Op. 26. This sonata is often referred to as the sonata Andante con variazioni thanks to the lovely opening movement with its singing melody and contrasting treatments leading to a cantilena coda. It was Chopin who greatly admired this work and it became the model for his own Piano Sonata in b-flat minor with the exception of Chopin`s first movement which was written in traditional sonata form. Interesting in the A-flat sonata is that there is not a sonata form movement to be found here and the positioning of the scherzo and of the slow movement have been reversed with the infamous funeral march to the memory of a hero, a clear reference to the soon to appear Eroica Symphony (No. 3) of 1803-1804, appearing immediately prior to the finale. In the A-Flat Piano Sonata, Beethoven turned the structure of the traditional piano sonata on its ear and wrote the first of his works that gave a glimmer into the structural experiments that would become the norm in the later 19th century with composers such as Schumann and Liszt.

PIANO SONATA NO. 13 in E-flat, Op. 27, No. 1. Again, in this sonata, Beethoven dismantled the usual structural expectations for the piano sonata and created here a work in one single movement. The work was originally entitled Sonata quasi una fantasia due to this continuously flowing single movement, played without pauses between its sections. It is a display of random thought, of freely flowing musical inspiration, and uses the ghost-like appearance of melodies from one section in other sections as a linkage element. The “movements” are also not in the expected order but are inverted and this leads to the blurring of each movement`s concept. The musicologist, Kenneth Lockwood, refers to this structure as a device which forces the listener to focus on the tonality of the work as a whole and not on that of the individual movements.

PIANO SONATA NO. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2. This may be the most singularly famous piano sonata ever written. The opening movement, Adagio sostenuto, of the Moonlight Sonata, as well as the entire work, was written without a commission or any financial incentive. This must have been a labour of love for him and, perhaps, also an expression of feelings for his pupil, the Countess Giuletta Guicciardi, to whom it was dedicated. Its name was appended years after Beethoven`s death by the German poet, Ludwig Rellstab, and some consider it to be “reflective” of the poets impressions of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne. Since that time, this “nickname” has become synonymous for the entire work although the application of it was, initially, only to reference the first movement.

With this sonata, Beethoven returned to the traditional sonata form but in a shortened version as shown in the initial movement. Berlioz called this movement a “lamentation…one of those poems that human speech does not know how to qualify” and the insistent triplet rhythm delineates a melodic as well as a harmonic function. However, Beethoven is reported to have otherwise “lamented” composing the work in the first place, complaining to his pupil, Carl Czerny, “Certainly I have written better pieces!”

With regard to its influence on other, later romantic piano works, many consider the Moonlight Sonata to have provided an inspiration for Chopin`s “Fantasy-Impromptu”, which was actually conceived as a tribute to Beethoven.

PIANO SONATA NO. 26 in E-flat, Op. 81A. “Lebewohl” or “farewell” is inscribed above the first chords of this majestic work written in 1809 and 1810, at the height of Napoléon`s invasion of Vienna. The work, itself, bears the subtitle, Les Adieux but the real purpose of the sonata, be it a message of departure to the Archduke Rudolph who had fled the city, or a more personal yet abstract work, is unknown to history. However, the movement titles, “Das Lebewohl”, “Abwesenheit” and “Das Wiedersehen” seem to substantiate the historical context of the piece. The opening “horn-fifths-motif” is also found through history as a representation of hunting and love of nature, a passion, which Beethoven shared with the Archduke. The sonata, Les Adieux, is regarded as technically and emotionally one of Beethoven`s most demanding compositions. It possesses an incredible depth of feeling and is the definitive transitional work, coming between his middle period and the great and last piano sonatas. © (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.