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Franz Liszt: Sonata in B minor, S178 – Sonetto 47 del Petrarca, S161/4 – Sonetto 104 del Petrarca, S161/5 – Sonetto 123 del Petrarca, S161/6 – Après une lecture de Dante: 'Fantasia quasi Sonata', S161/7
Angela Hewitt (Piano)
Recording: Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin (May 19-22, 2014) – 74’37
Hyperion #CDA68067 – Booklet in English. French and German

Angela Hewitt has been performing works by Franz Liszt, including the monumental Sonata in B minor, since her teens. Her touring and recording over the past four decades have focused, however, more on other composers, especially J. S. Bach, Couperin, Mozart and Beethoven, and from more recent times, French masters including Debussy, Fauré and Chabrier.

In a detailed, beautifully written program note, Hewitt discusses her early reaction to Liszt, how a performance of the Sonata by one of her teachers, Jean-Paul Sévilla, was a revelation and became a turning point in her understanding of the composer.

From today’s perspective, 15 years into the 21st century, it’s clear that essentially there are two approaches to Liszt’s piano music: the flashy virtuoso approach which pianists like Rubinstein, Horowitz and even Richter gladly espoused, or a more intellectual, analytical approach. The latter has become prominent in recent times. As Hewitt notes in her essay, Alfred Brendel has stated that only pianists who have proven “competence in the interpretation of Classical masterpieces” should be accepted as outstanding Liszt players. Hewitt picks up on this, correctly stating that Liszt himself was considered the greatest Beethoven player of his era. (And in this regard, it’s worth further noting that Beethoven’s music, especially his later works, were an enormous influence structurally and otherwise on the more ambitious, larger-scale compositions of Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms.)

Hewitt’s new recording, to be released February 10, 2015, opens with Liszt’s Sonata then continues with four works from his Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année – Italie. I should mention Hewitt performed three of the latter here in Ottawa just a few weeks ago. There was tremendous excitement during that evening, though the piano and acoustic for the new CD are far superior to what the Ottawa venue enabled.

Her approach to the Sonata is both dramatic and deliberate, and avoids becoming academic or predictable --- Hewitt’s reading may be the most important new recording of the work since Markus Groh’s superb SACD for Avie Records was released almost a decade ago. While she has the technique to handle the work easily, she never hits listeners over the head with obvious virtuoso stunts. There are a few stretches when a little more tension, and even a bit more dynamic range, might be called for, but Hewitt clearly is playing this work on her own terms --- which is what any mature artist should be doing. Overall, the more lyrical stretches in the Sonata come off best, though this has nothing to do with their being arguably easier from a technique standpoint. Rather, she brings greater dynamic and textural subtlety to these parts of the music, and she seems in better control of the splendid Fazioli instrument used for this session.

Much the same can be said for the excerpts from Années de pèlerinage, with the glittering, sensuous moments in the three Petrarch Sonnets being further highlights.

What’s most exciting about this release is it confirms Hewitt is continuing to grow and mature as an artist and as an intellectual, and there is much for her audiences to anticipate and relish as her extraordinarily successful career continues.

Charles Pope Jr.




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