Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Claveçin Suite in A
Sonata in C minor, Op.13 (Pathétique)
French Suite in E flat, BWV815
Sonata in C, Op.2/3
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Reviewed by: Kenneth A. Clifford
Reviewed: 20 November, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Everything from Hewitt’s sound to her timing, and from her ornamentation to her improvisatory presentation, was impeccably presented throughout. The majority of today’s pianists stay well clear of this repertoire because its many awkward technical demands are so far away from that of the later styles which are written with more consideration for the shape of the hand. This music requires pristine finger articulation and an innate understanding of complex counterpoint and rhythmic device. Hewitt brought subtle rubato, fluttering scales, shimmering ornaments and wonderfully disguised changes in direction and tonality to each movement and her climax-building was remarkably gripping and intense.
Beethoven’s ‘Pathétique’ Sonata holds a new set of challenges and though Hewitt’s performance was convincing, this distinctive discipline took her out of her comfort zone. The opening Grave which eventually builds into an Allegro di molto e con brio had extra grandeur and impact because of some clever pedal manipulation. However, once the Allegro was reached, the ascending treble chords were not pronounced with the clarity and precision they demand. Hewitt’s repeat of the opening section drew attention to harmonies which were previously held discreet and so there was constant variety and probing that gave added life to the second hearing. In the Adagio cantabile, Hewitt relied solely on her fingers to give the legato middle voice of pacing semiquavers an intimate and personal representation. The lack of pedal gave the sound an innocence that otherwise would have been unachievable. She guided each harmonic turn, always nurturing the sound to achieve wonderful contrasts between darkness and light. Hewitt’s phrasing in the finale was beautifully crafted and her courageous opening tempo paid off dividends.
In Bach’s E flat French Suite Hewitt characterised each movement with an immaculate sense of timing while always giving the impression she was improvising. Her voicing and placement of intervals was consistently judged to perfection and her natural instinct for ornamentation brought the music to life.
Like the other two sonatas in Beethoven’s Opus 2, the one in C is in four movements and despite its early opus number, it is a more comprehensive work than the ‘Pathétique’ which was written three years later. Hewitt over-romanticized the work by using rubato that was simply out of context with the music; missing was any hint of orchestration within the sound and she didn’t manage to bring any real sense of charm or humour to the opening movement. The movement’s dark and serious aspects were met with a wooden sound in the fortissimo passages and though many moments are supposed to shock and surprise, there is no justification for making such abrasive sounds. The Adagio had some beautiful moments but, again, Hewitt continually used a similar ritardando at the end of phrases, and over-prepared modulations caused the music to lose intensity and any sense of unpredictability.