25 Essential Beethoven Recordings: The Bagatelles

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Beethoven wrote three sets of Bagetelles, those short character pieces for piano, first early in his career, and again towards the end. Many serious pianists and musicologists consider the first set, Opus 33, to be the doodlings of an immature genius. But most of the pieces of the second two -- Op. 119 and Op. 126 -- aspire to some musical distinction, mixing the deceptively simple and the more dramatic.

The London-based American pianist Stephen Kovacevich included the Bagatelles on his complete Beethoven cycle for EMI in the 1990s and they continue to rank among the standout versions.

He delivers a stylish and piquant reading of first Op. 119 Bagatelle and uncovers hidden details in the Opus 126 set. But he also finds depths of feeling and unexpected humor in the sometimes innocuous early pieces. As one reviewer once put it, Kovacevich makes these works seem like "polished miniature objects, their edges focused and glittering."

Kovacevich recorded the individual sets of Bagatelles separately, but Phillips has recently reissued them together on one CD.

Sonatas and Bagatelles. Stephen Kovacevich, piano
EMI Classics
Available at Arkivmusic.com