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Hyperion Records

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At the Piano (c1858) by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
Taft Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67618
Recording details: March 2007
Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Italy
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: November 2007
Total duration: 36 minutes 48 seconds

'As ever with this pianist, we get playing that is thoughtful, thought-provoking, finely finished and intricantly nuanced. She imbues the opening movement of the sonata with a sure sense of structure and pace, and finds more energy than many of her rivals in the Scherzo' (Gramophone)

'Angela Hewitt's seemingly effortless but always adventurous interpretations … her poise and amplitude lend it an unearthly beauty … she holds our attention as no other pianist has, in my experience, quite managed in the giant rondo of a finale … handsome in fortissimo and mesmerising in sotto voce, the piano range is well served by Hyperion's Italian-based recording' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Hewitt’s highly personal performances demonstrate a sure grasp of character. Her deep understanding of the music’s beauties, quirks, and pitfalls makes for a most compelling listening experience' (American Record Guide)

'Hewitt's recordings are self-sufficient without the need for comparisons, but her Schumann sonata can hold its own against Maurizio Pollini's impressive 1973 version … the best possible way to make its acquaintance' (International Record Review)

'Her technical control remains as poised as ever, but Hewitt pushes much harder at the margins of the expressive world that directs it … in the often problematic F sharp minor Sonata, Hewitt is unreservedly superb, making the music cohere formally without ever undervaluing its flights of lyrical fantasy. For her the slow movement is the emotional heart of the whole sonata, but she is equally impressive in the rangy finale too, boldly characterising its component parts yet always conveying the sense of an organic whole' (The Guardian)

'The clarity of line is a Hewitt hallmark. It is present through the buzzing Allegro vivace, passing from right hand to left and back with seamless fluency, and it soars with the most delicate lightness through the Aria … Hewitt's Scherzo explodes with rhythm … the crushed notes are flashing sparks that might ignite. The Finale almost tumbles over itself with key-changes, expression and dynamics, but Hewitt contains all in a lover's embrace … it is as if genius has stepped out of its trance. This is joyful and exuberant play … a compelling Schumann player' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Her command of the keyboard is, as always, breathtaking … when Hewitt tackles composers that call forth her special talents, she has few equals' (Fanfare, USA)

'This is very superior playing indeed: an object lesson in pianistic refinement, tonal expressive and psychological imagination, and musicianship of the highest order. Hewitt's tonal palette is vast, exceptionally controlled and never indulged for its own sake … the tenderness and luminosity of tone in the slow movement of the sonata are quite haunting in thier immediacy—indeed that immediacy is amongst the hallmarks of the whole recording, be it haunting, jubilant, playful, morbid, dramatic or any of the other emotions and spiritual atmospheres that Schumann traverses almost as a matter of course' (Piano, Germany)

'Dos jóvenes pianistas aparecen en el horizonte del siglo XXI. Sin duda la antigua escuela de los Brendel, Lupu, etc. tiene difícil sustitución, pero un nuevo pianismo se presenta con estos nuevos artistas; un toque pulido, claro, buena técnica y no demasiado fervor, tratando a los genios románticos con cierta distancia, aliados con su calidad sin que su expresión empañe el discurso. Así parece expresarlo Angela Hewitt que propone dos muestras significativas y atractivas: Humoreske de Schumannn y, por otro lado, el monumento de El clave bien temperado de Bach, con cuidados legatos y una sonoridad homogénea' (La Vanguardia, Spain)

Piano Sonata No 1 in F sharp minor, Op 11
composer
1832/5; published 1869 as Pianoforte-Sonata, Clara zueignet von Florestan und Eusebius

Aria  [4'31]

Other recordings available for download
Nikolai Demidenko (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The opening pages of Schumann’s Op 11 Sonata are clearly labelled as an ‘Introduzione’, though their fully formed melodic character lends them the aspect of a self-contained entity. Even when the theme of the introduction returns at the centre of the ensuing Allegro, its reappearance acts as an interruption to the music’s developmental flow, rather than being an integral part of it. It is true that the introduction focuses on the motif of the falling fifth which is to form the Allegro’s starting point, but its isolation from the main body of the movement is emphasized by its most unusual feature: the gentle melody that unfolds shortly after its beginning is the theme of the sonata’s slow movement. This startlingly original piece of long-range anticipation is by no means a gratuitous gesture: the falling fifth also features prominently in the slow movement. At the end of the introduction Schumann carries out one of his characteristic experiments in piano sonority, the falling fifth emerging pianissimo out of a blurred swirl of sound.

The Allegro is dominated by what Schumann called his ‘fandango’ idea. The only significant contrast is provided by a smooth theme in the major that emerges at the end of the exposition, fulfilling the role of a traditional second subject. Even here, though, the falling fifth motif, with its dotted rhythm surviving intact, is absorbed as an accompanimental figure.

Schumann describes the slow movement as an ‘Aria’, and it is in fact based on a song he had written as an eighteen-year-old student. (The song, An Anna, to a poem by Justinus Kerner, was not published until Brahms included it in the supplement to the collected edition of Schumann’s works, issued in 1893.) In Schumann’s piano setting the beginning of the melody significantly unfolds over a sustained perfect fifth in the bass, and its delicate air of understatement is underlined by the marking of senza passione, ma espressivo. When Liszt reviewed the sonata for the Paris Gazette musicale (alongside the F minor Sonata, Op 14, and the Impromptus on a Theme of Clara Wieck, Op 5) he singled out the slow movement for special praise, describing it as ‘a song of great passion, expressed with fullness and calm’. The falling fifths that punctuate the melody are not found in the original song, and were clearly added in order to stress the unity of the sonata’s opening pair of movements.

Behind the framework of the third movement lies the notion of a through-composed scherzo with two trios. The tempo quickens for the first quasi-trio whose opening bars are underpinned by the first movement’s ‘rocking’ fifths motif, played pianissimo leggierissimo. The second trio—or ‘Intermezzo’ as Schumann calls it—is written very much tongue-in-cheek. It abruptly abandons the agitated, adventurous style of the piece thus far in favour of what seems to be a parody of the old-fashioned school. The episode is, in essence, an absurdly heavy-handed polonaise, and Schumann marks it, appropriately enough, Alla burla, ma pomposo. There is little doubt that we are here face to face with a Papillon—perhaps an extract from the lost set of ‘XII Burlesken (burle) in the style of Papillons’ which Schumann had sent to the publishers Breitkopf und Härtel in 1832.

There is a further surprise in store before the scherzo is allowed to return, in the shape of an orchestrally inclined recitative complete with a ‘Papillon’ that takes flight on the oboe before being angrily dismissed by the full band. And to add to the confusion, the scherzo returns at the wrong pitch before being thrown into the correct key a couple of bars later—a typically Schumannesque touch.

There are more orchestral sonorities in the finale: tremolos deep in the bass register while above them the texture gradually increases in weight, like a crescendo over a drum roll; a staccato passage near the close, marked quasi pizzicato; tutti chords punched out at top speed (one of several features in the piece that make it a formidable technical challenge to the pianist). This sonata-rondo based on a duple-metre theme forced into the strait-jacket of three beats to the bar was, in fact, the first part of the sonata to be composed. If it lacks the coherence and dramatic sweep of the opening movement, the music’s élan and inventiveness carry the listener unfailingly through to its triumphant F sharp major conclusion.

from notes by Misha Donat © 1996


Other albums featuring this work
'Schumann: Humoreske & Sonata Op 11' (SACDA67618)
Schumann: Humoreske & Sonata Op 11
Buy by post £10.50 This album is not yet available for download SACDA67618  Super-Audio CD  
'Schumann: Piano Sonatas' (CDH55300)
Schumann: Piano Sonatas
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55300  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  

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