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Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert

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Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Thème et variations, Op.73 (1895) [16:21]
Valse-caprice No.1 in A major, Op.30 (1882) [7:22]
Valse-caprice No.2 in D flat major, Op.38 (1884) [7:43]
Nocturne No.5 in B flat major, Op.37 (1884) [8:35]
Nocturne No.6 in D flat major, Op.63 (1894) [9:12]
Nocturne No.13 in B minor, Op.119 (1921) [8:29]
Ballade for solo piano, Op.19 (1879) [15:07]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
rec. August 2012, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin
HYPERION CDA67875 [72:51]

Angela Hewitt’s selection of some of her favourite Fauré pieces means that we probably can’t expect a collected edition of the solo piano works from her. Nevertheless, she has long been an adherent of the composer, and he forms part of her long-established French repertoire, only a smallish part of which she has recorded.
She has selected one of his masterpieces, the Theme and Variations, Op.73, the first two of the four Valses-caprices, three of the Nocturnes and the early, and not wholly representative Ballade, which is also known in its version for piano-and-orchestra, which Hewitt has also played in concert.
She plays this repertoire with real vitality and extroversion. The first of the Valses-Caprices is artfully, indeed lavishly introduced, and presented as a glittering fantasy of rhetoric; maybe it sounds arch to those used to more sober readings but it’s certainly an arresting point of view. A plainer-speaker, such as Jean Hubeau, responds more peaceably, more domestically, if you will; Hewitt certainly makes it seem a bigger piece, with more pressing contrasts, almost to the point of being parodic of the form itself. Bigger, then, certainly, but the downside is sometimes a reluctance to relax into a phrase. But as with the second caprice, there’s a real communicative spirit at work, fluent, searching for colour and drive; playing of great digital assurance and sophistication.
When it comes to the Nocturnes her playing reminds me a little of Jean-Philippe Collard - though not of her erstwhile teacher in this repertoire, Jean-Paul Sévilla, whose recordings of Fauré, regrettably, I find unconvincing, even drab. Her sense of phrasing and sense of continuity in the three Nocturnes is Collard-like in intimacy and sensitive proportion. She tends to point up the bass line, too. Don’t be taken in by the apparently very slow tempo for the B minor; it’s nearer to 8:13 than 8:29. It’s nevertheless more leisurely than most performances, but is still warmly textured and doesn’t sound especially slow, much less laboured. Curiously, though not so slow, this was a Nocturne that Germaine Thyssens-Valentin also took time over, and she wasn’t known especially for slow tempi. Her recordings of the composer’s music are now on Testament and are indispensable. Fine though Hubeau is here, if a little withdrawn, it’s Collard and Hewitt who are the more imaginative in the Nocturnes. The Ballade has been recorded by musicians such as Paul Crossley and Kathryn Stott but it still remains under-represented on disc. It’s an early lyrical work, splendidly conveyed here.
Which leaves just the Theme and Variations: she makes something of a dogmatic meal over some of the articulation of the Theme - it sounds very imposed - but once past that the playing settles down. The variations are unfolded with nuance and subtlety, even though I still find Collard the more naturally felicitous performer in this piece. There are, for example, just a few exaggerations in Hewitt’s playing of the third variation.
In this repertoire Thyssens-Valentin’s 1950s recordings remain the most inspirational and often unexpected, though some have questioned her textual accuracy. Hubeau is a safer performer, but Collard’s youthful readings still retain their marvellous freshness. Hewitt’s single disc selection offers extrovert vitality, and some personalised moments alongside them. The recording, much like the playing itself, is excellent.
Jonathan Woolf