BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert Series – Angela Hewitt

Toccata in C minor, BWV 911
Fantasia in C minor, K396
Sonata No.15 in D, Op.28 (Pastoral)

Angela Hewitt (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 14 January, 2002
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

What anticipation, what feeling of curiosity, to know one was about to hear Angela Hewitt … not playing Bach!

There was Bach of course, the C minor Toccata, played with the absolute poise and cool control that is now so familiar.The Mozart was well chosen; K396 is somewhat unfamiliar.Its intricacies and long paragraphs are perfectly suited to Hewitt’s lucidity of thought, her ability, and indeed compulsion, to make transparent sense of everything she interprets; the C minor Fantasia’s incidental beauties can sacrifice structure … in Hewitt’s hands it made perfect sense.

Hewitt’s strength lies in her immaculate, precisely contoured revealing of part-writing, each layer given its own character and colour. Although there is something of a modern fashion that shows Beethoven can be successfully played in a fragmented way, he is essentially a composer of passion and synthesis. Whereas Bach produces intense emotion by establishing an intellectual order and, by removing distraction, focusing the heart, Beethoven directly foments passion, whether in the service of the Sublime or of Revolution. Hewitt played the ’Pastoral’ sonata almost as if it were a polyphonic suite; the effect was disconcerting. For her, this is not a playful, sunny work, but something at best serious-minded and at worst portentous. The first movement was taken slowly, overture-like, and the slow movement at a trot; it might as well have been an allemande. Even the tiny, whimsical scherzo had its humour removed by being played with so straight a face. The first four notes, for example, descending octave by octave, set the tone of the movement, but instead of using these as a launching pad, Hewitt smoothed them into a single phrase. Her performance was not helped by a memory lapse in an untidy rondo-finale.

All was redeemed by the encore, Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte. Hewitt’s brilliance at differentiating parts allowed her to keep the stately, mournful character of the theme through the varied accompaniment of each reprise; her ability to think in terms of long lines preserved the mood of absolute stillness no matter how busy the accompaniment. I eagerly await the arrival of her Ravel recordings from Hyperion.

The Fazioli piano Hewitt chooses to play, so rich-toned and so responsive in pianissimo, also emerged as the ideal foil for her coolness, as if the instrument itself supplied the last degree of warmth that the performer held back. Bach plays to Hewitt’s strengths, or else it has moulded them. The Toccata opening her recital was utterly compelling. Angela Hewitt is one of the world’s great pianists and she sold out the Wigmore Hall. It is a relief, given the almost superhuman precision of her Bach, to find that she is not such a paragon across the repertoire.

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