This is the fifth volume of Angela Hewitt’s cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and she is recording a full set of Mozart’s concertos too; and yet she is still probably best known for her Bach. So perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s when Beethoven slips into Bach-style fugues in the final movement of Op 110 that Hewitt sounds most masterful. Elsewhere she is incisive and thoughtful too, even if the two earliest works here, Op 2 no 2 and Op 10 no 1, demand a certain lightness of touch that they don’t quite get – the flurries and flourishes sound like collections of notes rather than single, self-propelling gestures. The second movement of Op 78 is a deft dialogue of question and answer, and Hewitt brings an inevitability to Op 110 that makes sense of its changes of direction even if she doesn’t obviously revel in the full extent and novelty of its inspiration.
Antonin Dvorák's Piano Quartet No. 2 is one of the greatest chamber works of the 19th century (as are many of Dvorák's chamber compositions). Written in 1889 at the request of his publisher Simrock, it is a big, bold work filled with the Czech master's trademark melodic fecundity, harmonic richness, and rhythmic vitality. The first movement is a soaring, outdoor allegro with an assertively optimistic main theme accented by Czech contours and Dvorák's love of mixing major and minor modes. The Lento movement's wistful main theme is played with a perfect mixture of passion and poise by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The music alternates between passages of drama and delicacy in this, one of Dvorák's finest slow movements in any medium. The Scherzo's stately waltz is contrasted by a lively, up-tempo Czech country dance. The finale is a high-stepping, high-spirited allegro with a strong rhythmic pulse that relaxes for the beautifully lyrical second subject.
This 1995 release from Deutsche Grammophon combines two memorable concerto recordings by Sviatoslav Richter. Almost all of Richter's recordings are considered legendary – particularly since he did not like recording in the studio – but these are rightfully so. They were some of the first that were released widely in the west, where he was still something of a new talent in the late '50s-early '60s, although a middle-aged man by then. The Rachmaninov Concerto No. 2 with Stanislaw Wislocki and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra dates from 1959 and was met with high praise from most for its detail and the depth of Richter's knowledgable interpretation. It is not as ardent as most other pianists' readings, but its clarity speaks volumes and can still move the listener.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner leads the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in performances of Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major D.485 and Brahms's Serenade No. 2 in A Major, Op. 16 recorded live in concert at The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. In Serenade No.2 a 20-year-old Brahms chooses to omit violins, creating an unusually dark sound, while the lively style of Schuberts Symphony No.5 seems to reflect the composers youthful exuberance.
Evgeny Kissin, in case you missed the New Year's Eve international telecast from Berlin, is an 18-year-old Russian who is already the veteran of many a 'sensational' debut. As he proved in his accompaniment to Karajan's Tchaikovsky, he is already a considerable artist, with all the traditional Russian strengths of deep tone production, strong rhythm, clarity and expressiveness even under extreme virtuoso pressure. His Rachmaninov gives further evidence of an outstanding talent which one hopes his advisers, RCA included, will nurture patiently.