Beethoven SACD on Hyperion

2007-01-20 / Audiophile Audition / Gary Lemco

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op. 10, N o. 3; Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat Major, Op. 7; Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 Appassionato” – Angela Hewitt, piano – Hyperion

Music played with passion, power, and eminent respect for its historical context.

Recorded 7-10 December 2005 at the Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Iraly, these three sonatas receive thoughtful and technically impressive treatment from Angela Hewitt, whom heretofore I have associated with older music of Couperin and Rameau. The opening Presto from the D Major Sonata receives a particular urgency and grand line worthy of its designation by Carl Czerny as “the first masterpiece in [Beethoven’s] cycle of sonatas.” The Largo e mesto movement has been no less described as Beethoven’s first sojourn into the tragedy of existence. The sonority of Hewitt’s Fazioli piano (with four pedals), via Ludger Boeckenhoff’s surround sound engineering, proves poignant and incisive. The extra pedal allows Hewitt to educe a shallow, swift, clear staccato when she wants it. At times, the music proceeds as a funeral dirge with its own carillon of bells. How this moody, pained movement must have influenced both Chopin and Liszt! The Menuetto imparts a naïve innocence after the somber slow movement, a moment of spiritual relaxation. A trite three-note rising tune concludes the sonata, likely an opportunity for Beethoven the performer to improvise ad libitum. That Beethoven can take musical dross and turn it into explosive gold testifies to a decisive gift for alchemy.

Beethoven’s E-flat Major Sonata (1797) is his second most expansive work in the genre after the Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106. Hewitt calls the opening movement “wild” – rife with jazzy syncopations and stabbing sforzandos. She advises (and performs) a tempo that is not too hurried in light of the bravura passages later on; this expansive canvas certainly was Michelangeli’s approach for his lengthy inscription. Hewitt sees in the piece’s opening a blossoming Romantic impulse, quite a departure from the Haydn style. The opposite is true of the Rondo, a throwback to the composer’s earlier sensibilities, except perhaps for the C minor middle section. Nice ambiance in the piano’s upper register, even when heavily pedaled. The Largo, con gran espressione, savors its rests as dramatically as it does its C Major cantabile pathos. The melody moves to B-flat Major in a high register, a confident effect. The ensuing Allegro possesses a geniality that somehow invokes the composer’s later Pastoral Symphony. Ending softly, rather genteel, the last movement urges refinement over brawn. Still, Hewitt can make repeated notes shine, and the Fazioli instrument emits a warm glow.

The Appassionata Sonata (1804) can be said to be the product of Beethoven’s own Erard piano, which enjoyed a range of five-and-one-half octaves and a low F. The repeated C and the “fate” motif of the Fifth Symphony are ubiquitous; the affect is clearly Neapolitan. Hewitt follows the composer’s dynamics, playing in strict time except where marked. Although not Sviatoslav Richter, Hewitt can muscle her way in the first movement at will. The whole piece–excepting the uncanny theme-and-variations second movement–testifies to stormy impulses we find in Byron and Shelley’s West Wind. Nobility without affectation – that is Hewitt’s contribution to this much-performed, much-distorted piece. Music played with passion, power, and eminent respect for its historical context.”