Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 15 in D,
No. 8 in c,
No. 3 in C
Angela Hewitt (pn)
HYPERION 67605 (74:18)
In this, the second installment in her Beethoven sonata survey, Angela Hewitt goes from strength to strength. Still early in the game, it already shows promise of being one of the very best; and among other recent surveys I’ve been following from
András Schiff, Garrick Ohlsson, and Gerhard Oppitz, to name just three, I am finding Hewitt to be the most consistently well played and to have the most interesting new things to say about these well-explored works, often in unexpected places and in Beethoven’s most unassuming moments.
Take, for example, the “Pastoral.” I daresay you have not heard it played like this before. I know I haven’t. The care and attention Hewitt pays to the subtlest of details yields rich dividends. Listen to the articulation of her phrasing throughout the first movement which ever so gently seems to transform the score’s 3/4 time signature into a rocking, bucolic 6/8, emphasizing the sonata’s impressionistic nickname. Following the repeat, darker clouds pass by in the stormier development section, leading to the most perfectly gauged Adagio fermata preceding the Tempo I recapitulation I’ve ever heard. Hewitt’s playing here reinforces something I touched upon in my review of Volume 1, which is that her years of toiling in the contrapuntal fields of Bach have uniquely prepared her to tackle Beethoven’s sonatas.
Once again, in her “Pathétique,” as in her previous “Appassionata,” Hewitt eschews breakneck tempos and overdramatic contrasts; her approach is essentially lyrical and linear. And while she does not shy away from allowing her magnificent Fazioli piano its full voice when the music calls for it, her touch gives ample evidence of her understanding that Beethoven went to war with the instrument he had, not the one he might have wished he had. While not lightweight, this is a “Pathétique” that bears up gracefully under fire.
Shocking as the first movement of the C-Major Sonata, op. 2/3, with its
Sturm und Drang
double trills and thundering octaves must have been to Beethoven’s peers in 1795, it is in the probing depths of the Adagio and the quirky Scherzo that Beethoven paves new pathways. Not an expressive marking in the former or kinky twist in the latter escapes Hewitt’s attention.
There are so many outstanding surveys of Beethoven’s piano sonatas to choose from—Ashkenazy, Brendel, Annie Fischer, Gilels (not quite complete), Richard Goode, Friedrich Gulda, Ian Hobson, Wilhelm Kempff, Schnabel, Craig Sheppard, as well as several still in progress—it is really impossible to single one out and say that if you could only have one this is the one you should have. Each has something special to offer. Were I to arrange these names in order of preference rather than alphabetically, Sheppard, Gilels, Goode, and Kempff would probably appear first. But when Hewitt’s set is done, I have a strong feeling that it will be at or very near the top of the list.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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