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Angela Hewitt's ultimate piano playlist

Editorial Staff

By Matthew Parsons

Angela Hewitt is a living legend of the piano. Her voluminous Bach recordings can stand alongside anybody's, and she's even managed to win an endorsement from a fictional character in an Ian McEwan novel. 

CBC Music asked Hewitt to put together a playlist of some of her favourite piano works. The resulting mix runs the gamut from solo piano works, to songs, to symphonies; from stately baroque classics to 20th-century masterpieces. 

1. Bach: Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828: Allemande

Perhaps Bach’s most beautiful Allemande — a serene, stately version of this dance with an exalted expression. The world can just wait while we listen to it or perform it.

2. Mozart: 'Ch’io mi scordi di te?', K. 505

A concert aria that Mozart wrote for himself and one of his favourite sopranos, Nancy Storace. It is thought she sang it at her farewell concert in Vienna in 1787. The voice and piano intertwine in a loving manner. The piano must sing as beautifully as the soprano. Perhaps there was a subliminal message in the text?

3. Schumann: Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 11

Since the time I played this on my graduation recital at University when I was 18 years old (and also in the Schumann Competition in Zwickau, Schumann’s birthplace in the same year), this has been one of my favourite pieces. It is unjustly neglected. Schumann is not a best-seller like Bach is, but he had such fantasy, warmth, imagination, humanity — which is all brought out in this terrific performance by Emil Gilels.

4. Chopin: Etude in A-flat major, Op. 25, No. 1

For sheer beauty and poetry, you can’t do better than this, played by the one and only Alfred Cortot. How did he do it? One tries to imitate him, but it doesn’t work. So much of it has to do with sound production, which should always be the most important thing in a pianist's mind (and the pianos of the day helped a lot with this — with their velvety sound, unlike most modern pianos). The rubato is also unique. Chopin isn’t bad either.

5. Chabrier: 'Idylle' from Dix Pièces Pittoresques

Another neglected composer who is a favourite of mine. Chabrier was a big influence on the likes of Ravel, and his Dix Pièces Pittoresques were very important in the history of French piano music. "Idylle" is pure poetry, and not so easy to play well!

6. Albéniz: 'Rondeña' from Iberia, Volume 2

Listening to Alicia de Larrocha’s complete Iberia is a must. I had the great fortune to hear her play it live (in Toronto and Paris) twice in my lifetime. One of the concert highlights of my life. Nobody owned the Spanish repertoire the way she did. Put yourself in a good mood and listen to this!

7. Messiaen: 'Joie du sang des étoiles' from the Turangalîla Symphonie (5th movement)

I just performed this a few nights ago in Tokyo, and it’s still going around in my head. It has a tendency to do that! One of the pieces I've had to work on the most in my life, but it was worth it. The conductor has the easiest job in this movement by far (although he/she would never admit it). Boulez hated it (said it was “brothel music”). I love it! When you get to the end, and the piano goes completely mad (I sure worked on that part!), my heart by that time is in my mouth, and one has to completely nail it — that’s a feeling I can’t express in words — only with quick heart beats! The cast in this performance brings it off brilliantly. In Tokyo I performed with Cynthia Miller who is part of this performance. You need earplugs sitting on the stage for that final chord.

8. Sibelius: 'Was it a dream?' ('Var det en dröm?'), Op. 37, No. 4

The role of the piano accompanist is too often underestimated. Providing a good “accompaniment” (a bad word to start with…) for a great singer is one of the joys of life. There are many treasures among the songs of Sibelius (whose anniversary we celebrate in 2015). This is one of them. The piano can make or break this song.

9. Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major, 2nd movement

Isn't this one of the most glorious beginnings of anything? Ravel said he wrote it with the score of the Larghetto from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet open on the table. Perfection — also from one of the great soloist/conductor teams ever.

10. Scarlatti: Sonata in D major, K. 96

At the moment I'm going through all 555 sonatas by Scarlatti, choosing which ones for my Hyperion recording project. So many gems, it’s not easy to choose which ones to start with! But this will be one of them. Scarlatti didn’t have the modern piano, but he was a master of the keyboard — past and future. The guy knew how to play. That’s quite a “flourish” Cziffra adds at the end. Not in the score, of course!

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