Angela Hewitt’s Fastidious Debussy Debut

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

For her first Debussy recording Angela Hewitt has put together an intelligently programmed and well contrasted 80-minute recital of individual short works and suites. Opening with the Children’s Corner Suite, Hewitt’s nuanced fingerwork and minimum pedaling do perfect justice to Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum’s wry homage to keyboard exercise methodology. Also note Hewitt’s sensitive dynamic gradations in Serenade for the Doll, her multi-leveled delicacy of the broken octaves in The Snow is Dancing, and her swaggering, perfectly paced Golliwog’s Cake-Walk. She achieves a nice fusion of tender lyricism and classical backbone throughout Suite bergamasque, although some listeners may feel Clair de lune to be overly languorous.

Hewitt’s restrained and meticulously-voiced Danse contrasts with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s quicker, lighter gait in the main theme and more malleable middle section. Subtle pedaling and a wonderfully even touch seems to transform Hewitt’s Faziolli grand piano into an intimate harp. And rather than toss off the Second Arabesque like virtuoso fluff in the manner of Zoltan Kocsis or Simon Trpceski, Hewitt lovingly polishes each decorative gesture and rolled chord. Similar attention to detail differentiates her ultra-refined Masques from Bavouzet’s more forceful approach. Although Hewitt begins L’isle joyeuse with gorgeously shaped trills and runs and concludes with a dazzling finger-twisting climax, many softer passages would benefit from more playful abandon. I also sense that Hewitt’s toying with La plus que lente’s basic pulse is slightly forced and unnatural next to Arthur Rubinstein’s more internalized sense of rubato.

As always, Hewitt contributes her own superbly written, brilliantly researched and communicative booklet notes. Listeners expecting the strong bass presence and close-up detail typical of many Hyperion solo piano discs may be surprised at this release’s slightly distant ambience and mid-range emphasis.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bavouzet (Chandos); Gieseking (EMI)

    Children’s Corner; Suite bergamasque; Danse; Deux arabesques; Pour le piano; Masques; L’isle joyeuse; La plus que lente

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