Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas:
No. 12 in A flat, Op. 26 (1800-01) [19:13]
No. 6 in F, Op. 10 no. 2 (1797) [16:19]
No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90 (1814) [13:22]
No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 24 no. 2, “Moonlight” (1801) [14:58]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
rec. Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Italy, 30-31 August, 1-2 September 2009
HYPERION CDA67797 [63:54]

The placement of the Op. 26 Sonata first plays to Hewitt’s strengths. Her voicing of lines in the theme of the opening “Tema con variazioni” is cleaner than I have ever heard it. Indeed, her very cleanliness of texture brings Perahia to mind in this repertoire. Her treatment of sighing motifs in Variation III seems to harken back to Baroque Affektenlehre, and indeed there seems little forward-looking here. Yet there are gains – the clarity of melody in Variation V - projected to just the right degree - for example. The highlight of Hewitt’s reading is the “Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un eroe”, a relentless dwelling on the finality of death. As Hewitt points out, in contrast to Chopin’s famous March, there is no ray of light, no vision of Heaven, to contrast here. Hewitt instead refers to volleys of cannon-fire shot over the grave in the central section, and one can hear exactly what she means. The brief finale features sforzandi that are like a boxer’s jab.

We are a long way from a gritty Richter or a monumental Gilels here, yet Hewitt’s entirely individual yet completely cogent viewpoint is both valid and rewarding. Insights flow apace as the work unfolds before our ears.

The small but beautifully formed Sonata, Op. 10 No. 2, receives a delightful account here. Charm sits next to Beethovenian storm. Hewitt sees this sonata as “basically a comedy” over which hovers Haydn. Her first movement is exquisitely formed. She stretches the drama to its boundaries without ever exceeding them. Hewitt’s second movement may raise the odd eyebrow, for it is more contemplative than most, with the Trio seeming remarkably Schubertian. Quoting Tovey, Hewitt warns against an over-enthusiastic tempo for the finale. Hewitt’s tempo gives plenty of space for some delicious articulation while fully honouring the playful nature of the music.

The E minor Sonata, on the cusp of the composer’s late period, finds Hewitt in exploratory mood. The second movement suits Hewitt perfectly, with its often Schubert-lied-like demeanour. An atmosphere of tranquillity is superbly rendered here, enabled by Hewitt’s perfect legato touch.

Tranquillity is a key facet of Hewitt’s first movement of the so-called “Moonlight”, which she manages to project with a speed that nevertheless captures movement. The accents of the finale certainly have force - if not rivalling Pollini’s missiles, on DG - but Hewitt also honours the quieter moments. She is expert, too, at the dramatic gesture - around six minutes in.

Hewitt provides her own notes, mixing autobiographical elements with musical insight. This is characteristically thought-provoking playing, although none of the four performances topple any of the greats in this repertoire. The recording however is exemplary and is perfectly judged by the producer, Ludger Böckenhoff.

Colin Clarke

This is characteristically thought-provoking playing, although none of the four performances topple any of the greats in this repertoire.