The British-Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt has a refreshing attitude to Liszt. On first hearing, the monumental Piano Sonata in B minor as a teenager she thought “what an awful piece”, a mere vehicle for piano bashing. Why would anyone play it? Then a better pianist – her own teacher, Jean-Paul Sévilla – showed her the work’s miracles. At once she set about learning it herself. With Liszt, out of the wild forest of notes, the pianist must find line, delicacy, lyricism, sinew and nobility. Many players have collapsed under the weight of fiendish technical challenges so that the music sounds relentless, even grotesque. Liszt found big ideas irresistible. That other marathon, the Dante Sonata, compresses The Divine Comedy into a single movement, from the grumbling horrors of Hell to the benediction of Paradise. The harmonies, full of tritones, are wild and remote. Virtuosity is only the start. Here, in the B minor sonata and in the three youthful Petrarch Sonnets, Hewitt is magisterial. For many years Bach has been her calling card. Her Liszt is, if anything, yet more compelling.
Liszt: Piano Sonata, Dante Sonata, Petrarch Sonnets review – Angela Hewitt is masterful and compelling
Fiona Maddocks is the Observer's classical music critic. She is the author of Hildegard of Bingen, Harrison Birtwistle: Wild Tracks and Music for Life. Follow her on Twitter: @FionaMaddocks