Recital in the Royal Festival Hall, London

2005-05-24 / The Guardian / Tim Ashley

A crucial point in my pianistic and emotional development” is how Angela Hewitt cryptically describes her first performance, aged 17, of Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor. Liszt is not a composer we would primarily associate with Hewitt, whose playing has always been the embodiment of sophisticated cool. The B Minor Sonata is torrentially emotive and extravagantly written. Hewitt’s decision to include the piece in her latest recital inevitably raised questions as to how she would tackle it.

Technically exacting, the work pushed her to her limits, and some of the weightier passages – the fortissimo hurtling octaves and careering scales – were occasionally underpowered. Against that must be set Hewitt’s exactitude in laying bare the sonata’s structural logic, and her location of its emotional kernel in its moments of stasis and reflection rather than in bravura drama. The single movement form evolved as an organic whole, in which not a single phrase seemed extraneous.

Hewitt’s playing of the central slow section was exquisite in its subtlety. She doesn’t bring to the work the heightened drama of Mikhail Pletnev or the brooding introspection of Paul Lewis; however, this was an impressive interpretation, admirable in its lucidity.

Bach and Ravel, forming the rest of the programme, are more familiar Hewitt territory. Ravel’s Sonatine found her plumbing the shifting emotional resonances that lurk beneath its surface charm. Bach’s Overture in French Style, BWV 831, was all elegance and wit, though Hewitt darkened the mood during the central Sarabande. The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor was wonderfully done, with the ricocheting phrases of the Fantasia contrasting beautifully with the meditative calm of the fugue. Hearing it in the same programme as the Liszt sonata served as a reminder, if it were needed, of how Bach’s harmonic palette shockingly pre-empts Romantic experimentation at its most daring.”