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Franz (Ferenc) LISZT (1811-1886)
Sonata in b minor, S178 (1857) [34:19]
Sonetto di Petrarca No.47 (Années de pèlerinage: Italie, S161. No.4) (1846) [6:24]
Sonetto di Petrarca No.104 (Années de pèlerinage: Italie, S161, No.5) (1846) [7:35]
Sonetto di Petrarca No.123 (Années de pèlerinage: Italie, S161, No.6) (1846) [7:58]
Après une lecture du Dante - Fantasia quasi Sonata (Années de pèlerinage: Italie, S161, No.7) (1846) [18:15]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany, May 2014. DDD
HYPERION CDA68067 [74:31]

Sonata in b minor, S178 (1857) [29:52]
Sonetto di Petrarca No.47 (Années de pèlerinage: Italie, S161. No.4) (1846) [5:51]
Sonetto di Petrarca No.104 (Années de pèlerinage: Italie, S161, No.5) (1846) [6:28]
Sonetto di Petrarca No.123 (Années de pèlerinage: Italie, S161, No.6) (1846) [7:04]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
El Amor y la Muerte from Goyescas [12:52]
Domenico Codispoti (piano)
rec. Studio Odradek, December 2011. DDD
ODRADEK ODRCD303 [62:10]

Angela Hewitt sets the mood of the b minor sonata instantly. She plays the two opening notes in octaves very quietly and mysteriously, taking on board the composer’s comment that these should sound like ‘muffled timpani’. She creates more of an air of mystery in this opening lento assai and makes a greater contrast with the ensuing allegro energico than Domenico Codispoti on Odradek. His recording is good enough but miked a little too closely. Also the lack of contrast in the dynamics is possibly due more to the Odradek recording than to Codispoti’s playing.

Hyperion’s recording is masterly and provides Angela Hewitt with every opportunity to present her interpretation. Throughout I was struck, not only by the passion, drama, emotional intensity and drive mustered by Hewitt, but also her delicacy, subtlety of touch and expression, and her rubato which is always perfectly conceived. In the first movement I noticed the cascading semiquaver accompaniment passages which always glitter and sparkle like jewels in her hands, all admirably captured with utmost clarity by the Hyperion engineers.

The second movement is exquisitely played by Hewitt, a deep and thoughtful interpretation. The link to the third movement is superbly managed and in the opening of this three-part fugato, Hewitt’s touch is light and clear in texture. At this point she seems to revert to the style of playing we normally expect from her Bach. This makes such a telling contrast with her romantic way with the slow movement, and both styles appear totally natural for her. For a while it seems we are back in the Baroque era ... but not for long, as we soon reach the fourth section: back to Lisztian drama and virtuosity. Then comes the return of the second subject, gloriously played.

There is no lack of virtuosity in the coda (closing section) and I liked the fullness and richness of her chord playing in the last return of the second subject theme. The closing andante sostenuto and final very soft chords are most moving. Very fine playing here and excellent recording quality. Only minor niggles in that the melody notes in occasional chords in the second subject’s appearances could have been projected more, and there seems to be a chord missing in bar 298. It is hard to believe Hyperion would make such an editing error, so I hope that this is just a fault in my copy of the download.

Codispoti seems to take a while to bring real drama to the work. He plays the opening notes in octaves more drily, more staccato and more loudly than Hewitt. The first movement is light in touch and the big climaxes are not as powerfully realised as with some players. However, by the time we arrive at the deep c-sharp minor presentation of the second subject, Codispoti’s fortissimo and pesante are magnificent. The quiet and delicate sections are exquisitely played and realized with a sensitive, delicate touch.

The performance is certainly not over pedalled, resulting in good textural clarity. Codispoti plays the slower middle section beautifully and sensitively, although his idea of andante sostenuto is somewhat quicker and more flowing than Angela Hewitt. Hewitt is more elegiac in mood here and I must say I prefer her depth of expression. The final section or recapitulation starts lightly, like Hewitt, but the sound is slightly muffled compared with the Hyperion recording. Codispoti increases the excitement as the music becomes a whirlwind of virtuosity. He approaches the climaxes magnificently, most notably in the coda. This climax is followed by the concluding andante sostenuto and I particularly liked the very soft closing chords. Here Codispoti gives a real sense of rest and resignation after the trials and tribulations of Liszt’s great work.

Fortunately I listened to the Odradek recording first and thought Codispoti’s approach very fine indeed, particularly as he progressed through the work. I hope that he will become one of the great players of the future. That said, I only had to hear a few bars of Angela Hewitt’s account to realise that we were in a different league of playing and experience. Hewitt’s performance of Liszt’s Sonata is up there with the great recordings already available on the market and is a must-hear for all lovers of Liszt’s ground-breaking masterpiece. She really lives this music: it is thrillingly played from start to finish and the recording is up to Hyperion’s usual superb standards.

Both Domenico Codispoti and Angela Hewitt continue their recitals with the Tre Sonetti di Petrarca from the second book of Années de pèlerinage. Hugh Collins Rice writes some first-class programme notes for the Odradek recording and I particularly like his brilliant suggestion that these pieces could be described as ‘Songs Beyond Words’. Originally conceived as songs for tenor and piano, both pianists capture the lyrical nature of these pieces. Hewitt gives slower accounts of all three, and once again I am glad I heard Codispoti first because, excellent though he is, Hewitt is the winner here. Her performances, as in the B minor Sonata have a much wider range of expression, dynamics, touch and colour, and she is aided by a superior recording. The Odradek sounds a little boxy in comparison to Hyperion’s warmer acoustic which allows Hewitt’s melodies to sing so beautifully.

Always controlled and poised, Hewitt nevertheless demonstrates her technical brilliance with a keen feel for Liszt’s style in the composer’s first incarnation as a travelling virtuoso. Particularly touching are her shapely melodic lines with just the right amount of give and take in the pulse. These melodies can be tender or passionate, especially in Sonetto 104, which is perhaps the most ‘romantic’ of the three, and all are stunningly played here by Hewitt. She gives a fine account of Sonetto 123, her own personal favourite, and I also appreciated the tenderness of her playing, especially in the closing section.

The Hyperion recording concludes with the Dante Sonata which begins with its frightening depiction of hell. Hewitt is well able to portray the moods here, but also the touching, gentler moments later in the piece where she produces some beautifully coloured phrasing and textures. The three main themes of the sonata are transformed in various ways throughout the piece, and Hewitt has a real command of the overall structure of the work.

Domenico Codispoti’s final piece is El Amor y la Muerte from Goyescas by Granados. He gives a very good account but once again I felt that whilst he provided much of the musical feeling and all the technical expertise needed, somehow the performance just needed that bit more in every respect than he was able to give.

Geoffrey Molyneux

Previous reviews: (Hewitt) Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month) ~~ (Codispoti) Paul Corfield Godfrey

 

 




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