Angela Hewitt Plays Scarlatti, Bach and Beethoven: What more is there to say?

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Scarlatti, Bach & Beethoven: Angela Hewitt (piano), Dora Stoutzker Hall, RWCMD, Cardiff, 24.1.2016. (LJ)

Domenico Scarlatti: Selection of Sonatas
J. S. Bach: Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata in E flat, Op. 81a, Les Adieux

Angela Hewitt CC OBE needs no introduction. Hewitt can easily be called Canada’s finest living pianist (Gould fans would dispute higher praise), and now that she has been admitted into The Gramophone’s Hall of Fame, there are few accolades she is yet to call her own. Hewitt was even invited to go to Hollywood at the age of 4, having started playing the piano only a year earlier! Thankfully, her parents declined the thinly gilded offer and Hewitt, under the instruction of Jean-Paul Sévilla, has become a world leading classical musician.

As she walked on stage in a ravishing pink, blue and black dress, Hewitt emitted an air of charm and flare that is not often felt when a performer takes his or her first steps into the spotlight. Her iconic red lips, rich brown hair, and radiant smile lit up the Dora Stoutzker Hall as she walked purposefully to the piano and began promptly with Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in D minor, Kk 9.

Throughout her recital Hewitt set her lyricism against her innate rhythm. Her astonishingly natural sense of melody made her performance of Scarlatti’s sonatas memorable as she communicated with ease and clarity. Her performance of Scarlatti’s sonatas were spliced with Bach’s wonderful Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826 and her recital concluded with Beethoven’s Sonata in E flat, p. 81a (Les Adieux). These carefully selected pieces gave sustenance and grandeur to the evening’s main musical focus: Scarlatti.

Of the eleven Scarlatti keyboard sonatas Hewitt played (she had 555 to choose from!), her performances of the A major Kk24 and D minor Kk141 sonatas were astonishingly brilliant. Her rendition of the C major Kk159 sonata was sprightly and frivolous; a wonderful contrast to the quiescent and introverted B minor Kk87. Hewitt was technically impeccable; however, at times her mind seemed to be working faster than her fingers. Surely she can be forgiven for the occasional slip in her electrifyingly fast performance of the A major sonata Kk24. Hewitt usually plays on a Fazioli piano and with its punchy, percussive tone it can maintain clarity in faster pieces better than the altogether more dolorous Steinway Hewitt was using in Cardiff’s RWCMD. It is worth noting that Hewitt’s pace was not for show; though little is known of Scarlatti, upon meeting the Italian maestro in 1710, the Irish composer Thomas Roseingrave commented that this quiet, grave young man dressed in black and played the harpsichord “like ten hundred devils”. Perhaps Hewitt’s black dress was a discreet nod to the composer’s works she sat down to play. Overall, Hewitt’s performance brought the comments of eighteenth century music historian Charles Burney to mind. Burney remarked that Scarlatti’s sonatas are “Original and happy freaks […] the wonder and delight of every hearer who had a spark of enthusiasm about him.”

Between fits of Scarlatti’s athletic leaps, Hewitt’s performance of Bach’s Partita in C minor sounded like she was returning home. This sublime work was given greater gravitas by Hewitt’s ability to bend time as she opened out wide spaces between notes and unravelled contemplative introspection in Bach’s phrases. Hewitt was able to dwell on an idea and expose the core of emotion behind each section; this is a stupefying talent. After being utterly seduced by Hewitt’s performance; it seems little wonder that when one says Bach, one thinks of Angela Hewitt.

Hewitt rounded the evening with Beethoven’s Les Adieux Sonata, where she flaunted her extraordinary dynamic and tonal range. Beethoven wrote this sonata towards the end of his middle period to mark the departure of his patron, the Archduke Rudolph, from Vienna. On the first 1811 publication, a dedication was added reading “On the departure of his Imperial Highness, for the Archduke Rudolph in admiration.” Hewitt conveyed the conflicting admixture of deep disturbance and jollity with subtlety and intellectual rigor.

In short, this concert was a special treat, and judging by the applause and contentment of the whole audience, it was a treat enjoyed by all.

Lucy Jeffery

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