LISZT Piano Sonata
Writing in her personal and engaging notes, Angela Hewitt tells us that Liszt’s B minor Sonata is ‘quite simply one of the greatest works ever written for the piano by any composer’ and, continuing, that it is music that makes you realise ‘that our everyday worries are so trivial and unimportant’. And so it is in her superbly serious performance, one that eschews all personal vanity, all preening mannerism and flamboyance but which, with strength in abundance, locates the still centre at the heart of Liszt’s raging heroics. What enviable poise and expressive beauty to launch the central Andante, what muffled and sustained opening octaves (in this she follows both her own inclination and also Brendel’s rather than Horowitz’s sharp cut-off), what concentrated focus rather than a breathless hurtle through the final section’s fugue. Her coda, too, breaths ‘glassy sighs and threats’; and if there is one concession to display (a bass reinforcement), well, why not? Despite a catalogue brimming over with greatness – Horowitz (his early 1938 recording), Arrau, Brendel, Gilels, Argerich, Richter, et al – Hewitt holds her own to such an extent that she makes you forget all about odious comparisons and listen instead to one of the great milestones in all music.
If her Petrarch Sonnets and Dante Fantasia (Liszt’s ‘other’ sonata) don’t quite reach this exalted level, they are nonetheless front-rank performances. There is a richly inclusive sense in the Sonnets of ardour and reflection (‘I fear, yet hope, I burn, yet am turned to ice’ and ‘I beheld on earth angelic grace’). Hewitt’s Dante Sonata is a vibrant and intensely musical alternative to Volodos’s stunning virtuoso recreation (Sony Classical, 6/10). Hyperion’s sound and presentation are as immaculate as ever and there is ample breathing space between each item. This is possibly the very finest of Angela Hewitt’s many recordings.