Review by georgeflanagin November 5, 2007 (11 of 11 found this review helpful)
|ADHD Summary: This disc is truly showcase quality in terms of sound. The music is familiar, but the performances are unusual and/or memorable. You really should read the liner notes before listening at all to the music. The piano is a Fazioli, which has a sound for which the word /unique/ is a legitimate use. The album cover art is even dazzling. Strongly recommended, assuming you are familiar with the music.
The back story:
My wife(*) plays Op 10, No 3. In fact, it is her standard warm up piece when she sits down to play in the evenings after work. That said, our CD collection does not lack a selection of recordings of this piece, nor of the others on this album. I ordered this disc and its companion, and they showed up in time for a weekend of leisurely listening.
Uh ... why read the liner notes?
Angela Hewitt writes her own liner notes, and they are usually informative. On page 4 she sets forth the importance of paying attention to the guidelines in Czerny's /On the Proper Performance of all Beethoven's Works for the Piano Solo/. This work and some other texts are referred to throughout.
I don't usually put the sound up front, but it is such a staggering improvement over the sound in Henry Wood Hall that I feel it is worth starting with a discussion of the venue. The Hyperion recordings in HWH have been plagued by the sound from the Underground as the trains rumble past. This is all gone.
The new venue is Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel in Dobbaico, Italy, where we may infer that Ms. Hewitt is on good terms with the management since the companion disc was also recorded there over a year later. The room is quiet, with no trace of air conditioning problems, train rumble, squeaky doors, rattling paper, and the like. The room sounds like it is a medium sized room, which is about the right acoustic for a solo piano. Admittedly, all the rumbles in HWH gave the listener the feeling of being in a big cavern, which had it's very cool moments, but the space and spaciousness also muddied the music to an astonishing degree.
I am sure that many factors contribute to the overall superior sound. The microphones are well positioned to give a realistic feel to the acoustic image of the piano: the balance of hall ambiance, good piano sound that produces some sense of size without a wall-to-wall giant piano, and mics far enough away that the mechanical noise of the piano is minimized, is all just about right.
Hewitt switched to the Fazioli some time ago, and she was playing one in Melbourne Australia when we saw her live in the late summer of 2005. Rather than my providing an inferior description of the instrument, I suggest that interested readers visit www.fazioli.com, and look up the Modello F308.
The Fazioli definitely has a ``sound'' of its own. I think this piano was first used on Hewitt's Chopin Nocturne traversal, and with Hewitt's playing, it is well suited for bringing out the complicated lines in these three Beethoven sonatas. The tuning is superb, and the piano seems to be able to produce excellent sound at all pitches and volume levels. There is a wonderful bell like quality to the upper half of the keyboard, and the tenor section is satisfying. The lower notes do not get much of a workout, something that I verified not by looking at the score, but by running the subwoofer only, and hearing absolutely nothing almost all the time.
The Music and Performance:
Here we have three chips from the master's block: The warhorse, Op 57; the well known to pianists, Op 10, No. 3; the not terribly familiar, Op 7. The middle one has gotten most press attention from others, mostly for the tempi, so let's start there.
Timings for movements I, II, III, and IV.
Hewitt: 7:16, 11:02, 2:38, 4:23.
O'Connor: 7:09, 8:30, 3:03, 3:58.
Kempff: 7:07, 8:47, 2:46, 3:51.
As you see, there was not much change between Kempff's standard setting and unaffected mid-1960s performance and O'Connor's Telarc recording. In the Largo e Mesto movement, Hewitt is both more largo and more mesto than all others. To make this pace acceptable, the musician needs rhythmic intensity, which Hewitt has. The performance of this one movement is still slow, and it took my about two or three minutes to set aside of my sense of expectation about when the next note would emerge from the silence.
With Op 7, there are fewer expectations because of its being a rarer work to encounter in the concert hall, or at home if you live with a pianist or are a pianist. Kempff and Hewitt show similar timings across four decades:
Timings for movements I, II, III, and IV.
Hewitt: 8:22, 8:28, 4:49, 6:55
Kempff: 9:06, 8:08, 5:16, 7:15
I was quite impressed with Hewitt's ability to reveal the inner lines of the music, much as Gould did with Bach. The combination of Hewitt's near-perfect control, and the capability of the instrument itself to make every note sound round and full no matter whether it is soft or loud, has given me a new insight into this work. There is so much that I have missed previously that I feel like I may have been hearing it for the first time.
Moving onto the Warhorse --- it never sounded so good.
Most listeners will start with this sonata, and indeed may play it more often. It is not just that Angela Hewitt plays all the notes that are written, but you get a chance to hear them. Note, for example, the grace notes preceding each of the trills at the beginning of the work. Or listen to the pronounced articulation of the accents in the descending scale starting about 4:20 into the first movement. (One of the few extraneous noises comes in about 4:40 where I can hear a ringing that sounds like it might be a runaway mic stand. It recurs about 40 seconds into the finale.)
The finale is well known for its rock-and-roll conclusion, which is beautifully brought about here. Fast forward to about 7:20 into the finale, and listen to the difference between the two chords that start the last bit. The first is marked ff and the second (s)f, and in this performance the accent jumps out (as do many others) giving the listener the feeling that this is a performance not a reading.
Just buy it, and quit trying to hang onto a duplicate photo of Andrew Jackson. It is a wonderful thing to hear less well known Beethoven works, played brilliantly, recorded well, and combined into a satisfying concert disc.
(*) If you have read previous reviews, it is not that I have both a wife and a girlfriend; rather that we got married between the previous review and this one.
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