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Chopin Without Swooning and Swanning
on August 7, 2005
Angela Hewitt is known to most of us primarily for her exquisite Bach. She grew up, as the daughter of a professional organist hearing Bach constantly and her obvious talent for baroque music seems as natural as breathing for her, although that is not to say that she hasn't thought out her performances of Bach's work to the last scintilla of control. But frankly I had not ever considered her for the Romantic literature. But here she is playing some of the most romantic piano music there is, Chopin's Nocturnes, and although her approach is classical in approach -- no grand-standing, no huffing and puffing, no swooning -- the romance comes through. One of the marvels of Hewitt's playing is that one can sit back and be ravished by her unfailingly gorgeous tone without having to think necessarily of the intellect behind the playing. But on close attention to the events of her playing one hears a clear, unclouded intellect at work through her fingers. She has 'the gift go be simple', so often the mark of a major player; simplicity isn't that easy to achieve in music. She focuses on the long line, as she describes it in her excellent booklet notes, the linearity of the abounding counterpoint -- she reminds us that Chopin made a long and thorough study of Bach and felt it was the basis of any serious musician's toolbox. Her rhythm is utterly controlled but with a natural-sounding rubato that is never willful or clunky, as so often is heard. Her left hand, so often relegated to neglected accompanimental doings by some players, is fully the equal of the right, another mark of a major player.
Nocturnes by their very nature are gentle, introspective, warm, consoling, and that is precisely what we get here. I had wondered how Ms Hewitt would handle the more dramatic works by Chopin and if her playing of the Fantaisie-Impromptu, which rounds out this disc, is any indication she would be excellent there as well.
There are a number of fine complete traversals of the Nocturnes by other pianists -- those by Arrau and Pires are recent favorites of mine -- and Hewitt's certainly can join the Nocturnes A list.