Angela Hewitt’s Schumann Piano Concerto CD reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Schumann Piano Concerto, Angela Hewitt, Hyperion.

Miss Hewitt says she was fortunate to have found the right conductor for her recording of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, Op. 54 — the Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu. Theirs is a collaboration that redefines, for me, the composer’s orchestral keyboard art.

Under Lintu’s baton, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the soloist play as one. The orchestra achieves a lovely transparency through which the elegantly shaped lines of Miss Hewitt’s piano sparkle like the lights of a city viewed from a mountain-top.

Her touch in the opening Allegro affetuoso is tender, conjuring in imitative dialogue with the orchestra a sense of all nature inclined to rest. From this there arises along the cadenza a powerful cascade of chords, building momentum of shifting moods towards an emotional drama, intimate, rich and affecting as the best of Chopin.

The Intermezzo balances the flow of swelling orchestral emotions and the delicate stepwise dance of the piano; the brief Andantino includes a silent clearing from which a clarinet, singing like a bird beside a tinkling stream of keyboard notes is joined by the winds in a return of the opening “Clara” theme that bridges into the Allegro vivace.

Miss Hewitt makes this finale section sing and dance as effortlessly as a Tai Chi demonstration, all flow, irresistible because it is without force.

The two accompanying works for piano and orchestra are quintessential Schumann. The Introduction and Allegro appasionata, Op. 92 of 1849 has a ‘magical’ introduction that reflects the composer’s labours on The Manfred Overture.  The piano is sometimes all mountains and streams flowing through fertile valleys, the orchestra exuding drama in chords that tumble precipitously into the dark; and sometimes the piano is a solitary figure, standing on a lyrical height. Horns expand the lyricism into drama fed by unceasing changes of tempo, rhythm and texture.

The Introduction and Concert-Allegro Op. 134 of 1953, dedicated to Brahms and premièred by Clara opens with a slow, thudding pizzicato pulse of strings over which the lyric piano softly sings alone a lonely theme to which the winds add a breathy accompaniment. The piano runs a rolling arpeggiated course, complex as a nervous system, sometimes manic, sometimes broad as a bucolic landscape. The cadenza is rhapsodic, extravagant, equally melodic and unrestrained in variations and shifts of mood— a performance of living music.

This is definitive Schumann. You will want to hear this recording.

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