Angela Hewitt is a fine Canadian pianist who has built a big reputation springing from her win in the first Toronto International Bach Competition in 1985. She now runs an annual music festival at Trasimino, Italy. I was a little disappointed in her recent recording of Handel and Haydn [Hyperion CDA 67366], but this new Beethoven recording finds her on top form, both in the playful variation sets and the two last cello sonatas. Her partnership with the young cellist Daniel Mϋller-Schott is one for the ages, and this disc one to treasure. It is the second is a series of Cello Sonatas from these artists.
There is certainly no shortage of recommendable performances in this repertoire, starting with Fournier and Kempff, spontaneous and full of beauty and robust rhythms [DG E4530132]. A personal favorite is the Philips coupling of the two late sonatas in a magnificently bold performance from Rostropovich and Richter with deliciously played variations from Maurice Gendron and Jean Françaix [Philips Duo 442565-2].
So what do Mϋller-Schott and Hewitt bring to the table? You might jump to the conclusion that the sound quality of this 2009 recording puts many others to shame, and you would be right. This is a top quality production which places the musicians up close so you can hear every delicious detail. I wouldn’t be recommending this disc unless the musicianship can stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the past. Angela Hewitt is clearly in love with this music and brings a freshness and sparkle to her playing that bring to mind another great chamber musician, Menahem Pressler. Mϋller-Schott is equally alert to all the possibilities in the scores and achieve a superb rapport with Hewitt that dispels all memories of other performances. The tempos are quite wide ranging, as is the dynamic range, but even at the fastest speeds the music still breathes easily, and at the slowest speeds the rhythms never flag. The cello is masculine in tone rather than beautiful, more Pierre Fournier than Yo-Yo Ma, with a strength and pitch accuracy to rival Rostropovich himself. Hewitt is a wonderfully matched partner, never reticent, but full blooded and poetic by turns.
While the sonatas are fully competitive, the chief joy here is the adventurous and creative approach to the three sets of variations. These are treated as masterworks rather than lightweight fare. Each variation is fully invested with color and character fully respecting the original compositions upon which they are based but fleshing out quite disparate moods.
This is not the only way to play this music, but it is fully convincing and belongs alongside other top recommendations for performance, and is unmatched for recording quality. That makes it a winner in my book.