Beethoven on Hyperion

2006-11-01 / Gramophone / Jed Distler

Gramophone’s Artist of the Year fuses poetry and passion in her Beethoven series opener.

Piano Sonatas Op 10/3, 7, 57 “Appassionata” Angela Hewitt (piano) Hyperion SACD/CDA67518

Angela Hewitt’s first instalment in a projected Beethoven sonata cycle for Hyperion offers intelligent, stylish and often illuminating interpretations. The contrapuntal acumen she regularly brings to Bach suits Beethoven’s linear trajectory, as borne out by Hewitt’s astute (yet never fussy) care over inner voices and bass lines. She takes Beethoven’s characteristic dynamic contrasts on faith but not to extreme, discontinuous ends, while her ear for uncovering melodic outlines of rapid arpeggios ensures that these figurations don’t sound “notey”. In addition, Hewitt’s strong left hand lends uncommon clarity and direction to passages such as the double notes in Op 10 No. 3’s first movement, or the motoric sequences 2’08” into Op 7’s Rondo. Occasional telltale signs of pre-planning include Hewitt’s tendency to hesitate a split second before Beethoven’s trademark subito pianos, thereby softening one’s sense of surprise. I also think her protracted treatment of Op 10 No 3’s Largo would have benefited from Claudio Arrau’s gravitas and sustaining power. Fusing poetry and passion, Hewitt lets her long hair down and her fingers run wild in the Appassionata’s first movement. She continues with a brisk and well unified account of the central variations, and suffuses her powerful, headlong finale with cutting accents and perceptive modifications of the basic pulse. The Fazioli piano’s lean bass and bright treble characterise the kind of timbral differentiation one often associates with instruments of Beethoven’s time. Hyperion’s SACD surround sound better absorbs the engineering’s resonant ambience than conventional two-channel playback’s relatively flatter sound-stage.