Angela Hewitt at Wigmore Hall – Haydn, Beethoven and Bach

Variations in F minor, Hob.XVII:6
Piano Sonata No.2 in A, Op.2/2
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV903

Angela Hewitt (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 17 February, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Angela Hewitt. Photograph: Mai WolfThe key of F minor was a means of tragic utterance for Haydn, notably in his ‘La Passione’ Symphony (No.49) and also the Variations, with which Angela Hewitt began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall. The original title for this expansive work was Sonata, but that would have constrained a free-form work of original and bold musical language. There are two main themes. Hewitt sought to draw maximum contrast between the dark hues of the minor-key melody and the lighter major-key counterpart, with its burbling right-hand figuration. Ultimately the more tragic of the two won through, Hewitt notably stern in her delivery, and although there was ultimately a positive resolution, it was a sombre one in this performance.

Two years later, Beethoven dedicated his first three Piano Sonatas of 1795 to Haydn – made under duress from his publisher. Hewitt’s performance of the A major example was restless, taking opportunities to express the humour that runs throughout but often using wild dynamic extremes, the Fazioli piano proving quite cutting. The first movement was notable for its particular phrasing and restive interjections, but there was an attractive line to the graceful second subject. More effective was the Largo, its bass line pointedly detached to emphasise its role as a slow march, before one of Beethoven’s loud outbursts destroyed the peace. The scherzo charmed, Hewitt enjoying the aquiline theme but missing a beat near to the finish, before the finale gracefully found the resolution the Sonata had been yearning for, the theme well-worked out and its recurrences heralded by a playful and enjoyable rubato.

Hewitt ended with J. S. Bach. His Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is particularly effective on the piano, bringing into focus the composer’s influence on such as Liszt. Hewitt was fully in command, her assertive torrent of notes clearly defined through sensitive use of the pedals. The occasionally wild tendencies of the Fantasia were encouraged, heightening the excitement, which sobered up a little when the measured Fugue brought things together rhythmically, despite being held towards the edge with its colourful idiom. Hewitt’s left-hand octaves on the approach to the end were imperious.

As an encore Hewitt chose Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in E (Kk380) with its winsome, bird-like main theme. One could sense an affinity between Hewitt and this composer, worthy of further exploration.

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