Schumann on Hyperion

2008-02-01 / American Record Guide

Schumann: Humoreske; Sonata in F-sharp minor

Angela Hewitt, piano
Hyperion 67618 ((SACD) 66 minutes

From the moment I held Angela Heewitt’s Schumann rrecord in my hands, I was impressed. Even before I unwrapped it, I could see that the whole project was carefully thought out. The cover art, Whistler’s At the Piano (1858), is a perfect choice, for surely the painting’s subject must be Clara Schumann, wearing the somber mourning garb she donned permanently after the death of her beloved Robert in 1856. Standing nearby, listening intently, is a young girl in white (a Schumann daughter?). To the art department at Hyperion, bravo!

Oh yes, and did I mention that Hewitt’s playing is first rate? She is best known (at least in this country) as a Bach player. In fact, her project to record all of his major keyboard works has been described as “one of the record glories of our age”. Her discography also includes music of Beethoven, Chabrier, Couperin, and the complete Chopin Nocturnes. The native Canadian, who has won prizes in several international competitions, appears all over the world as recitalist and as soloist with major orchestras.

Historically, neither of the two works offered here has been well received by critics and musicologists, and Schumann has been roundly taken to task for a lack of unity and structure. Yet, lucky for us, here is an artist who is a passionate advocate and is undaunted by what some perceive as flaws. Hewitt proves herself to be a trustworthy guide through the interpretive and technical demands of this difficult music. Her liner notes are informative and intelligently written. The recorded sound of the Fazioli piano is warm and clear.

The Sonata in F-sharp minor, described by Schumann to the teenaged Clara Wieck as ”a cry from my heart to yours” overflows with the melancholy dreaminess of Eusebius and the vigor of the extroverted Florestan. Particularly affecting is the relatively brief slow movement (Aria). All through the sonata and the ensuing Humoreske, Hewitt’s highly personal performance demonstrate a sure grasp of character. Her deep understanding of the music’s beauties, quirks, and pitfalls makes for a most compelling listening experience.