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Hyperion Records

CDA67974 - Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4
Pietrasanta P08.6 (2008) by Caio Fonseca (b1959)
Reproduced by kind permission of the artist / www.caiofonseca.com
CDA67974

Recording details: August 2012
Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: December 2013
DISCID: B710FB0C
Total duration: 72 minutes 28 seconds

'Exquisite in taste is the slow movement of Op 22, a beautifully paced Adagio, in the hands of Angela Hewitt' (Gramophone)

'Humour, clarity, nuance and razor-sharp contrasts of dynamics characterize Hewitt's playing of the quirky Op 31 No 3 … this is one of my favourite recordings of this sonata … [Op 101] Hewitt's performance is grandly conceived and it takes us through the many shifts of moods with a masterful projection of the spirit and the letter of the music. Nothing is rushed and every note speaks naturally. Hewitt's own booklet notes and Hyperion's superlative sound could not be bettered. I recommend this recording without reservation' (International Record Review)

'Hewitt’s uncluttered clarity of thought and inspired structural pacing pay even greater dividends in the glorious A major Sonata Op 101 (No 28). Hewitt captures its mood of glowing contentment to perfection, climaxing in a fugally inflected finale of exultant profundity. Hewitt’s approach recaptures the sense of wonderment experienced by the composer’s contemporaries. Not since the great Hans Richter-Haaser has a pianist produced Beethoven playing of such trance-like purity and vision. It’s been three years since we had the last instalment in this series (this is volume four)—let's hope we don’t have to wait as long for the next' (Sinfini.com)

'Avec ce quatrième volume de son intégrale des Sonates de Beethoven pour le label Hyperion, elle est à son meilleur. On a là un piano à la technicité exemplaire. Tout y est perfection, ou presque: les courbes mélodiques admirablement bien construites et dessinées, les nuances qui brillent par leur finesse, leur profondeur et leur variété, la polyphonie admirable de clarté (la fugue de l'Allegro de l'Opus 101!). Angela Hewitt alterne les climax avec le plus grand art et virevolte sur le clavier avec un évident plaisir. Son Beethoven est vivant, limpide et semble couler de source. Il faut dire que la pianiste canadienne suit la partition de très près, jusque dans l’intensité d’un soupir pourrait-on dire. Elle restitue le tout avec la plus grande précision, dans un acte de foi manifeste' (Classica, France)

Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4
Allegro con brio  [8'05]
Minuetto  [3'29]
Allegro  [8'54]
Presto con fuoco  [4'54]

Angela Hewitt presents a fourth volume in her acclaimed series of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, which has delighted her fans worldwide.

The little-known Sonata in B flat major, Op 22, the last of Beethoven’s ‘early’ sonatas, is recorded alongside Op 31 No 3 (sometimes known as ‘La chasse’, or ‘The Hunt’, because of its tumultuous Presto con fuoco finale). The album is concluded with Op 101, of which the journalist for the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in Leipzig wrote: ‘Truly, here in his 101st composition admiration and renewed respect take hold of us, when we wander along strange, never trodden paths with the great painter of the soul’, going on to enthuse about the most beautiful colours and pictures in Beethoven’s new Piano Sonata.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In this recording of Beethoven piano sonatas I have continued to go against the usual trend of pairing together works that are somehow related—whether it be through opus number, the period of Beethoven’s life in which they were written, or degree of fame. I would like to think that many people still listen to a conventional album as a ‘recital’, rather than just select individual tracks, and that the silences between pieces and movements can sometimes be as expressive as the music itself.

In my experience when I play (or sing) the opening bars of the Piano Sonata in B flat major, Op 22, to someone, I am often greeted with a blank stare. Either there is no recognition whatsoever, or else perhaps an amateur pianist has tried the opening but not got beyond the treacherous right-hand ascent in the third bar. This is a shame, because it is a sonata with which Beethoven was especially pleased. In 1800, when he sent it to his publisher in Leipzig, Hoffmeister, he wrote ‘Die Sonate hat sich gewaschen’, which can be roughly translated as ‘This sonata is really something’. Besides calling it a ‘Grande Sonate’, he was also confident of its success, predicting that it would sell more than the other two works he offered simultaneously: his Symphony No 1 and the Septet, Op 20.

When Denis Matthews wrote his guide to the Beethoven Piano Sonatas in 1967 he stated that this sonata had ‘dropped out of the repertoire’ and that it was ‘surprisingly free of surprises’. It deserves much more than that. Take the first movement, a brilliant Allegro con brio: there is a lot of material here with which to build something impressive, including unison thirds (which become slightly tipsy when presented in syncopation), rolling tremolos and broken octaves, and then a final subject presented in solid, unison octaves, giving a firm end to the exposition. These octaves, and the opening turn, become the main material of the development, the most surprising part of which is how those same fortissimo octaves become mysterious and almost inaudible when presented in single notes, low in the bass. The recapitulation is almost a carbon copy of the exposition.

The slow movement, marked Adagio con molta espressione, is for me the best part of the piece. Written in 9/8, a lot of its success depends not just on the quasi-operatic singing of the right hand (in which Beethoven’s famous cantabile playing would have showed itself at its best), but also in the quiet and regular delivery of the repeated left-hand chords. The mood is darker in the middle section, with embellishments swirling underneath plaintive sighs. As in the first movement, there is no coda. Enough has been said.

The turn that begins the slow movement reappears in the opening of the Minuetto, but this time with a rather cheeky grace. It is disturbed after the double bar by some written-out trills for all voices, answered by a fortissimo, negative reply. The second time round a decrescendo leads us back to good manners. The trio (actually described as Minore), uses this turning figure in descending passagework, emphasized by offbeat chords. It is reminiscent of a similar passage in Schumann’s Humoreske. Czerny, Beethoven’s pupil, said this section could be a little quicker than the rest.

I have always thought that it is the last movement that causes the most problems in this work. It is one of Beethoven’s rondos (like those of the Sonata in E flat major, Op 7, and the ‘Spring’ Sonata for violin and piano, Op 24) that are quite long, and need a good technique combined with an equally good imagination to hold them together. In his book on the Beethoven Sonatas, originally published in Danish in 1923 (which my father had in his library), William Behrend points out the obvious similarity between its theme and that of a piano sonata in the same key by Ernst Wilhelm Wolf (1735–1792), a composer very much in favour at the time. Perhaps Beethoven knew it. To what could be an otherwise banal theme, Beethoven adds, to quote Czerny, ‘much feeling and tenderness’. The B section gives us drama, bringing back the tremolos and thirds of the first movement. A particularly tender moment comes when the theme is presented in sixths in the left hand. This time there is a coda that almost brings the piece to a quiet close, but in the final second decides against it.

If the Sonata Op 22 is the last of the early sonatas, sitting on the bridge to Beethoven’s middle period, then the Piano Sonata in E flat major, Op 31 No 3, is firmly in the latter. Beethoven used this key for several of his most famous ‘heroic’ pieces (the ‘Eroica’ Symphony and the ‘Emperor’ Concerto, for example), but in the piano sonatas that feeling won’t appear for another two years (beginning with the ‘Waldstein’, Op 53). And whereas Op 22 begins with its feet quite firmly on the ground, Op 31 No 3 does not. A questioning, dotted gesture on an inverted chord doesn’t even give us much idea of what key this piece is in. We don’t find that out until the eighth bar. Even then, more questions continue to appear in different registers of the keyboard, finally allowing the piece to take off without interruptions. This is for the most part a sunny movement, despite some rumblings and outbursts in the development. It is quite ingenious how that questioning sigh becomes a definite dismissal when the note values are shortened.

Perhaps since Beethoven had just written a glorious slow movement in the previous sonata, Op 31 No 2 (‘The Tempest’), he decided on another route for this work—and what a route it is! The Scherzo, marked Allegretto vivace, is a brilliant piece of writing for the piano, even if it makes one think of the orchestra. Its Haydn-like surprises (fortissimo chords that make you jump out of your seat) come in the middle of staccato writing that must remain very light yet incredibly precise. Not an easy feat, especially if you want to add the necessary humour.

Something else is needed before the finale, so Beethoven gives us one of his most graceful minuets (which he demands to be repeated, even on the da capo). The trio begins with some elegant leaps which, after the double bar, become more insistent, and almost get stuck like a broken record. Seventy-two years later, Camille Saint-Saëns wrote his Variations on a Theme by Beethoven, Op 35, for two pianos using this trio theme as his subject (I performed Saint-Saëns’ variations several years before learning this sonata!). The eight-bar coda is a stroke of genius, quietly withdrawing from the ballroom scene.

Then what? A Presto con fuoco, of course! This finale is the reason why in some countries, mainly France, the sonata is nicknamed ‘The Hunt’ (‘La chasse’). The direction con fuoco is significant in Beethoven’s works (even if only a pretty experienced hunter could go at this speed, as Tovey rightly remarks). Yet every note in each triplet must be distinct and ever so slightly detached. The hunting theme is obvious, and propels us forward in the development section with incredible energy. As Behrend writes: ‘It races on through storm and gale, defiant and gay in its valiant assurance of its own force and strength.’ The passage towards the end where the left hand crosses over the right is treacherous. Beethoven is in his element, for sure.

I have always had a particular fondness for the Piano Sonata in A major, Op 101. It was part of my graduation recital at the University of Ottawa when I was eighteen years old. A few years later it was the imposed piece in the Casadesus Competition in Cleveland, and I remember comparing fingerings with all the other young pianists while we ate our dinner. More importantly, I have always liked the fact that it was dedicated to Beethoven’s favourite female pianist and pupil Dorothea von Ertmann (1781– 1849). When he sent her the finished sonata, he added the following note: ‘My dear, treasured Dorothea-Cecilia … receive now what has often been promised to you and what you may take as a token of my admiration for both your artistic talent and your own person.’

Baroness Ertmann told her niece that she met Beethoven in Haslinger’s music shop when she was looking over some of his recent compositions. She took them to a piano standing in the shop and began to play. A man came forward, seized her hand, and introduced himself. It was Beethoven. She and her husband later numbered among his closest friends.

By all accounts, Dorothea von Ertmann was a much-admired musician. Czerny wrote that she played Beethoven’s works with great physical strength and totally in the right spirit. Johann Reichardt, in his Vertraute Briefe, wrote: ‘I have never seen, even in the greatest virtuosi, such power allied to the most tender delicacy; there is a singing soul in each finger-tip.’

As an officer’s wife she could not perform in public, but she played frequently in the Viennese salons. A very touching anecdote has been passed down—one version of which comes from Mendelssohn, who visited her when she later lived in Milan. Her only child died at a very young age, and Beethoven, to her surprise, stayed away from her house, not showing any sympathy at all. Weeks later he returned, bowed to her, and, without a word, sat down at the piano and improvised for a long time. ‘Who would be able to describe this music? It was like hearing angelic choirs singing the welcome of my poor child into the world of light. When he had finished playing, he pressed my hand in sympathy and left me, silently as he had come. He had told me everything and in the end he brought me comfort.’

The year 1816 was not a very productive one for Beethoven. The lawsuit against his sister-in-law for custody of his nephew, Karl, must have taken huge amounts of time and energy, and the sorry saga was to continue for several more years. His hearing was becoming progressively worse, although it wasn’t until 1818 that he started to use conversation books. Other than the Sonata Op 101, the most important work completed that year was his song cycle An die ferne Geliebte. He was also working on the two sonatas for cello and piano, Op 102, and the first of these, in C major, which Beethoven himself called a ‘Freye Sonate’ (‘free Sonata’), has a form remarkably similar to Op 101.

The A major Sonata was published in February 1817 in the first volume of a series entitled ‘Museum für Klaviermusik’, brought out by the Viennese publisher Steiner. Its object was to present ‘only musical products of recognized worth—compositions which are particularly distinguished through their aesthetically pure musical design, worked out with artistry, gracefulness and clarity’. When Beethoven sent his sonata to Steiner, he wrote that it should be entitled ‘The difficult-to-play Sonata in A’ (Beethoven must have read reviews of his work, because a critic had just said that of his Seventh Symphony), adding: ‘What is difficult is also beautiful, good, great etc., so everyone will realize that this is the most lavish praise that can be given; since what is difficult makes one sweat.’

As in his previous piano sonata, the beautiful Op 90, he gives more elaborate German indications as well as Italian indications for tempo. Thus for the opening movement (Allegretto ma non troppo), he gives us a more precise clue to its interpretation in his native language: Etwas lebhaft und mit der innigsten Empfindung (‘a little lively and with deepest feeling’). I love reading Tovey’s notes to Beethoven’s sonatas (when I was a young student, his was the edition I always used, along with the one by Artur Schnabel). For this movement Tovey gives the following advice: ‘Do not be unduly depressed by the reflection that your deepest feelings are not equivalent to Beethoven’s: there is no deeper expression than that which comes of habitually playing great music faithfully in the full conviction that it is greater than you can realize. Think of it and not of yourself.’ Czerny says this music ‘renders all outward embellishment superfluous’ and must be soft and sustained. It is above all lyrical, and made all the more expressive by its swinging syncopations.

The indications for the second movement (Vivace alla marcia; Lebhaft, Marschmäßig) are more straightforward. The movement itself is not. It’s a quirky piece—awkward to play, and difficult to bring off. Too fast a tempo ruins it. The trio is mostly a piece of strict canonic writing, in which the marking dolce appears twice. The route Beethoven finds to lead us back into the march is pure genius.

The slow movement is not really a separate movement at all, but rather an introduction to the finale. It is only one page long, and the whole thing is played with the soft pedal depressed. The Italian con affetto becomes sehnsuchtsvoll in German (‘full of longing’). Beethoven instructs us in Italian not to play it too slowly (Adagio, ma non troppo), yet in German says Langsam. In any case, time must stand still. The different registers of Beethoven’s keyboard are used in the most expressive way, giving a great feeling of space. Only at is conclusion, in a brief cadenza-like passage, is the soft pedal gradually lifted. Then appears a short reminiscence of the opening of the first movement, tinged with regret. A few seconds later we are thrown into the finale, again by a masterful bridge joining the various sections.

A simple Allegro marking for this imposing finale is qualified with Geschwind, doch nicht zu sehr, und mit Entschlossenheit (‘Fast, but not too fast, and with determination’). The warning Beethoven gives is a smart one. With the exception of a few bars where he goes into jaunty folksong mood, this piece is all counterpoint, and the clearer it is, the more astounding it becomes. A lot of the opening section is marked piano, even pianissimo, and at one point dolce. The development brings us a fugue—or at least a substantial fugato. It begins as softly as possible in the lower register, and builds to a huge climax in which Beethoven, for the first time ever, uses the ‘contra E’ (as he wrote in the score). Only the latest pianos had this new note, and what a marvellous way to show it off! A treacherous passage in double fourths appears in the recapitulation (the part my fellow competitors and I were discussing over dinner, although Beethoven was at least kind enough to leave us his own fingering for it). And the coda? For a second, when he drops to the minor third, it sounds as though he might go off on another fugue. But this is only a joke. Nevertheless, the discreet laughter continues all the way to the final, crashing chords.

Angela Hewitt © 2013


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'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1' (CDA67518)
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'Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1' (CDA67633)
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'Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 2' (CDA67755)
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'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2' (CDA67605)
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'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2' (SACDA67605)
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'Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3' (CDA67797)
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