Piano Sonata No.1 in F sharp minor, Op.11
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 30 May, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
As adults many of us have problems re-entering that Peter Pan ‘Land of Lost Content’ and Kinderszenen poses a similar problem musically: how to recapture that sense of innocent childhood-wonder? Too knowing and it can sound arch, rather like a Joyce Grenfell parody. At first Hewitt – doubtless unsettled – was alternately heavy-handed and over-forceful. After all ‘Catch me if you can’ is only a child’s game but at Hewitt’s headlong tempo no child would ever have been caught, whilst ‘Knight of the hobby-horse’ was attacked with an unbridled vigour more appropriate to Kreisleriana. Things improved with a beautifully sustained ‘Träumerei’ and by the last two pieces, ‘Child falling asleep’ and ‘The poet speaks’, there was a sense of intimacy missing previously.
Less played than his other large-scale works, Humoreske opens with the most magical quintessentially Schumannesque melody which steals in as though mid-stream. Although called Humoreske, the work’s six sections last nearly half-an-hour and are a world away from the short caprices of Grieg or Dvořák. Though best known for her Bach, Hewitt is no shrinking violet when it comes to the Romantic repertoire – she tackled Humoreske’s more agitated passages with aplomb (so much so that the audience applauded prematurely at the conclusion of one episode) – but also caught its contrasting elliptical poetry to a tee, an unpredictable butterfly on the wing. The long ‘end of story’ fade-out was perfectly achieved.
The Sonata occupies a special place in the hearts of those of us who love Schumann. Yes, it is sectional and discursive but is also music so memorable that once heard it resonates in the mind long afterwards. Whilst the two central movements, especially the ‘Aria’, were near ideal, one was less convinced by the outer movements where Hewitt tended to over-egg the pudding, adopting quick base tempos but responding to each turn and twist with such extremes that the cumulative line was rather lost – this is, after all, a sonata rather than a set of character pieces and these outer movements repay a degree of patience if they are to build and make their full effect. Still, Hewitt’s abundant love for the piece shone through. There was an unexpected but welcome encore in the form of a transcription of Strauss’s song “Morgen”.