Canada's Angela Hewitt would be on anybody's list of the world's great pianists, but she has been known as a Bach specialist. Her cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas on Hyperion has, to an extent, been what you might expect: technically precise, individualistic, a bit idiosyncratic. What listeners may not have been prepared for is how high the highs are. Here it is absolutely essential to stick around through the whole program. Hewitt's Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2 ("Tempest"), has odd features: violent accents in the outer movements, and a curious de-emphasis of the octave ornament figure that plays such an important structural role in the slow movement.
Rameau on the piano? It's not altogether unheard of – there were a handful of classic recordings made by Robert Casadesus back in 1952 – but, despite many recordings of Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti on the piano in the digital age, there's been precious little Rameau on the piano until this Angela Hewitt recording of three complete suites from 2006. By choosing the Suite in E minor from the Pièces de clavecin of 1731 plus the Suites in G minor and A minor from Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin, Hewitt has for the most part stayed away from the more evocatively titled works and stuck to the standard stylized Baroque dance forms of the allemande, courante, and gigue. Justly celebrated for her cool and clean Bach recordings, this strategy works well for Hewitt. Without seeming to resort to the sustain or the mute pedal, she floats Rameau's lines and melodies, and without seeming to exaggerate the accents or dynamics, she gives Rameau's rhythms a wonderful sense of lift. In the deliberately evocative movements from the G minor Suite – "La poule," "Les sauvages," and especially "L'egiptienne" – Hewitt seems to bring less to the music – her interpretations are remarkably straight – and to get less out of it – her performances are remarkably bland.
One of the pleasant surprises of the first decade of the twenty first century was the way pianist Angela Hewitt developed from one of the most celebrated of Bach specialists into an all-around first-class performer in a much wider range of repertoire. Take her 2007 disc with Schumann's Humoreske with his Piano Sonata No.1 in F sharp minor. While one might have expected clarity and drive from Hewitt, who had long mastered those qualities in Bach, the evident passion and fantasy reveal new aspects of her playing, especially in her F sharp minor Sonata, which sounds like an ardent musical bildungsroman. Her Humoreske, similarly, has the poetic imagination and the lyrical fervor characteristic of great German romantic poetry. As on her Bach recordings, Hewitt's tone is pearly, her technique formidable, and her interpretations combine thoughtfulness with spontaneity. Recorded by Hyperion with winning warmth and an uncanny sense of immediacy, this disc will delight Hewitt's fans and enlarge Schumann's discography by one excellent disc.
Angela Hewitt has applied the same intense study to Chopin's Nocturnes and Impromptus as she does to any composer's keyboard works. The result is a set of pieces lovingly played and appreciated, with personally felt emotion. The most outwardly emotional displays, as in the Nocturnes, Op. 15, are never wildly loud and always return to an introverted state afterward. In the Nocturnes she uses little touches of rubato so frequently as to almost stretch the melodies out of shape, as in Op. 9/1, but she plays many of the Nocturnes a tick faster than other pianists so that they stand up to that kind of manipulation better, and she never slows down to fit in ornaments. Her ornaments always fit right into the melody, both in her timing and her phrasing, and are feathery soft.
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.
Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt made her reputation with fine, distinctive recordings of Bach and other Baroque composers, treated pianistically but not anachronistically. Baroque specialists who record Classical and Romantic music, especially that of Beethoven, tend to generate unorthodox results; exhibit A was Hewitt's fellow Canadian Glenn Gould. Hewitt has undertaken her own Beethoven piano sonata cycle, and while her readings are not outrageous like Gould's, they're perhaps part of the same general family.
Angela Hewitt presents a fourth volume in her acclaimed series of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, which has delighted her fans worldwide. The little-known Sonata in B flat major, Op 22, the last of Beethoven’s ‘early’ sonatas, is recorded alongside Op 31 No 3 (sometimes known as ‘La chasse’, or ‘The Hunt’, because of its tumultuous Presto con fuoco finale).