Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, mostly known as a Bach specialist, would seem an unlikely choice for Liszt's Piano Sonata in B minor, and indeed she has said that she herself disliked the piece until introduced to it by a teacher. Certainly Hewitt's reading of the work is unusual, and for those with a vision of the Liszt sonata involving lots of pounding on the keyboard or even just a grand statement of Romantic pianism, it's probably best to look elsewhere. On the other hand, Hewitt's reading is both coherent and competent, and it can boast abundant historical justification to boot. First of all, Liszt's pianos of 1853, although a long way advanced from Beethoven's, weren't capable of anything like the volume produced on grand pianos in concert halls these days; Hewitt's more restrained playing is probably closer to the historical norm. More important, Beethoven is the point of reference for Hewitt's performance in a way that earlier recordings of the Piano Sonata in B minor have not been. It's no accident that for her Liszt recording, Hewitt chooses the piano sonata and the "Fantasia quasi Sonata" Après une lecture du Dante as the two bookends, with the three Petrarch Sonnets as an entr'acte. The Piano Sonata in B minor is marked by close attention to line and motive rather than volume and speed, and the little bits of the original theme as they go by in the slow sections and the demonic fugues are especially clearly delineated. The sonata is divided into five separate tracks, emphasizing the traditional multi-movement sonata structure that's very much present in the work, and Hewitt's phrasing supports this aspect. Hyperion's recording in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche of Berlin, an institution whose doors Liszt would hardly have darkened at this point, is undistinguished, but this is a recording that will be prized for originality by those who love Liszt's only sonata.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Piano Sonata in B minor, S 178|