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Ludwig Van Beethoven
Piano Sonatas No. 15 in D major, Op. 28 "Pastoral"; No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 "Pathetique"; No. 3 in C major, Op. 2 No. 3
Angela Hewitt, piano

Review By Max Westler

  I was initially underwhelmed by these performances, but that reaction turned out to have more to do with my expectations than with Hewitt's performance. Having enjoyed her recordings of Bach, Couperin, and Chopin, as well as her remarkable traversal of Ravel's complete piano music, and having seen and very much admired her in live recital, I tried again and was well rewarded for the effort.

Once I stopped listening for either the physicality of Schnabel or the probing inwardness of Arrau, I could better appreciate the virtues of what Hewitt is doing here. For one thing, Hewitt avoids extremes. Her well-judged tempos are never too fast or too slow, never rushed or sluggish. Her approach throughout is intensely structural, and her tempos, the way she shapes the music, develop in a seemingly effortless, unforced way over the course of each movement. There is a refreshing sense of honesty here, a reluctance to push the music at the listener, or to exaggerate it in any way. Hewitt trusts to the details, which she renders with immaculate precision and expressivity. There is also a patience, a graciousness, that lets the music breathe in an altogether natural way. Hewitt's phrasing is graceful, never brusque, and her tone is rich and warm. Few interpreters of these sonatas let you hear just how gorgeous-sounding the music really is.

That these are, in other words, Apollonian interpretations doesn't mean that they're short on drama or excitement. In Hewitt's sure hands, tension blossoms gradually and convincingly into intense and sometimes explosive climaxes. But even more impressive is the variety that Hewitt finds in these works. No two of these sonatas sound remotely alike; each is permitted its own distinct character. Hewitt is able to capture the brilliance and muscularity of Op. 2, no. 3, as well as the disarming gentleness of Op. 28. The "Pathetique," the most famous, if not overly familiar, of these pieces, is fresh-sounding and vital. Again, Hewitt avoids the obvious, refuses to sentimentalize or melodramatize the music. The love song of the second movement is all the more intensely moving for Hewitt's restraint.

Elsewhere in this issue I complain about Lang Lang's ego-driven showmanship. Angela Hewitt is his polar opposite: every note she plays honors the composer. Though I sense her technique is every bit as comprehensive as Lang Lang's, her self-effacing artistry puts the focus where it truly belongs, on the infinite variety and depth of Beethoven's genius. I'm happy to add that the sound of Hewitt's 1981 Fazioli concert grand registers both the intimacy and grandeur of her interpretations with a deeply satisfying realism. This is, not surprisingly, the second installment of a projected cycle. Currently other gifted pianists are in the process of recording the complete sonatas -- Ronald Brautigam, Paul Lewis and Gerhard Oppitz, to name just three. If you're in the market for a completed cycle, it's always an embarrassment of riches, and there's an interpretive approach to suit any taste. But I suspect that in the end Hewitt's subtle, exacting, and expressive performances will stand comparison with any. Here is Beethoven for all seasons.

 

 

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