Notes and Editorial Reviews
Anthony Hewitt (pn)
DIVINE ART 25064 (60: 10)
The album is titled “Protégé,” though it might more aptly be called “Epigone.” Composed in 1857, Reubke’s Piano Sonata dates from his 23rd year, and the wonder of it is how completely he assimilated the Lisztian manner—the tightly organized single-movement form, thematic metamorphoses, virtuosic rhetorical flourishes, episodes of great dash and
moment melting into crooning lyricism against a backdrop of titanic struggle. Lacking a strong profile or his mentor’s gift of immediately appealing melody, the Piano Sonata has not caught on, despite several, albeit faltering, attempts to put it forward, though the imposing Organ Sonata (“94th Psalm”), composed in the same year, maintains a place on the fringe of the repertoire. One has only to turn to the works of Guillaume Lekeu, another impassioned composer dead at 24, to gauge Reubke’s strengths and weaknesses. Lekeu, despite private lessons with Franck and d’Indy, lacked Reubke’s instinctive grasp of form, or craft, and the vaulting executive capacity Reubke possessed in abundance, but Lekeu’s best work—the ramshackle Violin Sonata and the stunning two movements of a Piano Quartet—are imbued with immediate lift and the impress of a hyperintensively manic-depressive personality projected with a Schubertian melodic generosity beside which Reubke’s thematic transformations seem contrived and his virtuosic turbulence the struggle of a personality being born. Both are winged with the attractiveness of prodigious youth imperishably captured.
In 2006 pianist John Owings collaborated with organist H. Joseph Butler in an attempt to bring Reubke out of the shadows, which might have been exemplary—the extant keyboard works, good sound, and excellent annotations (Pro Organo SACD 72010)—but for the pianist’s difficulty in drawing the melodic and narrative elements out of Reubke’s effusive rhetorical passagework, thus lending the Sonata a more turgidly stentorian cast than it’s already saddled with. After this assault, Anthony Hewitt’s
, nuance-rife, and—above all—deftly fluent pianistic grasp is a revelation lending color to Richard Pohl’s account of the composer: “Playing us his sonata, seated in his characteristically bowed form at the piano, sunk in his creation, Reubke forgot everything about him, and we then looked at his pale appearance, at the unnatural shine of his gleaming eyes, heard his heavy breath, and were aware of how wordless fatigue overwhelmed him after such hours of excitement—we suspected then that he would not be with us long.” From the opening paragraph of the Liszt Sonata we know we’re in capable hands—Hewitt’s performance stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a plethora of first-rate accounts, including that of his mentor, Alfred Brendel. Sound is upfront in spaciousness, and detailed, but tilted very slightly toward the bass. Recommended.
FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis
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