Dix pièces pittoresques
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Recorded between 19-22 June 2004 in Das Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel, Dobbiaco, Italy
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: March 2006
CD No: HYPERION CDA67515
Duration: 76 minutes
Listening to this disc I was reminded of the famous picture of Chabrier sat at the piano, a back view of the composer-pianist in a long coat and big hat, seemingly giving the poor instrument something of a going-over. Angela Hewitt, you’ll be glad to hear, doesn’t subject her Fazioli piano to such treatment – rather she performs this music with great affection and no little flair.
Getting the right tempo would seem to be one of the principal interpretative issues with Chabrier’s piano music, as would the projection of the sometimes-full textures with the necessary clarity. Hewitt does both with plenty to spare, the Ronde champêtre skipping along despite the heavily chorded main theme, the fluctuations of tempo assured and secure. Indeed Hewitt’s way with rubato is most sensitive, barely detectable in the meandering of ‘Sous-bois’ from Pièces pittoresques. Only in the Aubade does it have the potential to impinge on enjoyment, with a holding back between sections that won’t be to all tastes.
The ten pieces of Pièces pittoresques are an underrated document of 19th-century piano-music, paving the way as they do for the character essays of Debussy and Ravel. Hewitt brings vivid personalities to each – the slightly edgy ‘Mauresque’, cautiously venturing forward with a detached, dotted rhythm, then the call to arms of ‘Danse villageoise’ with its neo-Baroque styling. The difficult transitions between register of the ‘Menuet pompeux’ are cast off with aplomb, while the lilting opening to ‘Improvisation’ grows to florid passage-work at the climax. The first in the set, ‘Paysage’, is a tricky piece, and Hewitt makes this dance, albeit with a lightly stilted rhythm.
The accompanying pieces are by no means throwaway material either. Bourrée fantasque is one of Chabrier’s more celebrated works, and Hewitt’s spiky repetitive notes make it a crowd-pleasing encore but also emphasise the forward progression to the music of Ravel. Meanwhile the Habanera brings out several Chopinesque traits and the Aubade, despite the rallentando referred to earlier, has charm and wit.
These pieces complete an excellent appraisal of Chabrier’s piano music, and how refreshing to see a pianist of the stature of Angela Hewitt recognising its value.