Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A Minor Op. 54 (1841-45) [31:29]
Introduction and Allegro appassionato Op. 92 (1849) [15:44]
Introduction and Concert-Allegro, Op. 134 (1853) [14:47]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Hannu Lintu
rec. 15-18 August 2011, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
HYPERION CDA67885 [62:02]
I’m not entirely sure which recording it was of the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor it was I listened to about 900 times while tackling the work’s analytical nuances for O Level exams in the UK in the early 1980s, but there have been so many recordings since it hardly matters. One new one I’ve heard recently is that with Sophie Pacini on the Onyx label (see review), and this makes a nice comparison with Angela Hewitt’s Hyperion release as the differences are so palpable. Pacini is urgent and dramatic in the Allegro affetuoso first movement, exploring the poetry of the gentler moments with probing notes which highlight each harmonic progression. Hewitt on the other hand is, dare I say it, less old fashioned. Her approach seeks the flow in the music, obtaining a legato in those accompanying moments where the orchestra takes the lead and adding texture rather than making musical points. The superb balance between piano and orchestra allows this to happen naturally and with an easy grace which is a sheer delight. Hewitt lingers lovingly at the chamber music moments in this movement and, while more drama might be achieved at such points, her contrasts are greater as a result - the rhythm of repose and triumphant thematic elevation beautifully proportioned.
Proportion is an important buzzword in Hewitt’s Schumann. She holds plenty back, but always for a reason. That solo passage from 4:36 might seem a bit too reserved, the tempo too static, but did you ever hear that clarinet entry at 5:35 quite so movingly? All of those essential little tonal and timbral brushstrokes are expressed to perfection, and the drama at 6:06 is all the greater for that minute and a half of suspended expectation. With Hewitt, and of course the superb instrumental weighting brought out by Hannu Lintu, you hear the ‘Bach’ in Schumann as well as the turbulent romanticism. That main theme never sounded quite so much like a Bach chorale than here, and there are little moments all over the place where, if your associative baggage allows it, a penny or more will drop and an ‘ah…’ moment will occur where it probably hadn’t before with other recordings.
The first movement of the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor is in a class of its own, history telling us that the other movements were added later to this stand-alone Fantasie as it was originally named. These appendices are by no means makeweights however, and Hewitt’s gently amorous dialogue with the orchestra in the second movement is a joy - like a smiling Schubert duet, with the orchestra looking over the pianist’s shoulder and adding an encouraging second part. The final Allegro vivace reminds me in tempo of Wilhelm Kempff’s second stereo recording on Deutsche Grammophon which always seemed a tad on the slow side. If you want the dancing qualities of this movement to come out then Murray Perahia is your man, together with Colin Davis on Sony Classics. Hewitt is less ballroom swish but is still sprightly in her detail, the notes sparkling over the orchestral accompaniment, and all of those vital contrapuntal sections and little sighing fragments all being given their due.
There are too many different recordings of the Schumann Piano Concerto to list and compare here, and great names such as the wilful Martha Argerich, the noble Wilhelm Kempff, the poetic Dinu Lipatti, the rhapsodic Alfred Brendel and the superlative Sviatoslav Richter all have made their significant contributions, and still jostle on equal terms with the current generation of players. Angela Hewitt presents quite a personal view of the work, and my appreciation goes out to her daring in taking an individualist rather than the standard racing line. This is the kind of recording which may surprise a little, but is also one which will gain your affection and provide increasing interest and insight with each airing.
Usefully coupled with less familiar Schumann works for piano and orchestra rather than one of the other more usual concerto warhorses, the Introduction and Allegro appassionato has as much drama and contrast if not quite the thematic qualities of the first movement of the Piano Concerto. The influence of Brahms is hinted at, as well as associations with Schumann’s Manfred overture which comes from the same period. Hewitt and Lintu hit this work pretty hard, and the energy crackles in what amounts to a superb performance. The Introduction and Concert-Allegro is a late work and somewhat slippery in terms of what one can grasp of its expressive point, despite being a highly effective piece and with some remarkably forward looking moments. There are bits which you could slot into a 1970s TV theme, and other fragments which you can imagine Keith Jarrett grabbing hold of and turning into an entire evening’s improvisation. Hewitt and Lintu take Schumann’s obsessive repetitions, darting reversals and meandering progressions and squeeze all of the goodness out of them, projecting this as something with considerable power and resonance and a remarkable testament.
I wasn’t entirely uncritical of Angela Hewitt’s solo Schumann programme from Hyperion (see review), but have few if any such reservations in this piano/orchestra release. Her next release in the Mozart concertos series will also be conducted by Hannu Lintu, and so also promises to be something more than a bit special. This Schumann release, complete with excellent booklet notes by the soloist and its strikingly atmospheric Caspar David Friedrich illustration for the cover, is highly desirable and extremely rewarding.
Dominy Clements
Highly desirable and extremely rewarding. 

Masterwork Index: Schumann's piano concerto