Beautifully prepared and performed all-Mozart recital from Angela Hewitt and Spotlight Chamber Concerts

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart: Angela Hewitt (piano). St John’s Waterloo, London, 3.12.2022 (MB)

Angela Hewitt © Matthew Johnson

Mozart – Fantasia in C minor, KV 396/385f; Sonata in C major, KV 330/300h; Fantasia in D minor, KV 397/385g; Sonata in A major, KV 331/300i

Angela Hewitt returned to Spotlight Chamber Concerts and St John’s Waterloo with a beautifully prepared and performed all-Mozart recital (to coincide with her new series for Hyperion). A fantasia was followed by a sonata twice over — but not necessarily the fantasia or sonata one might have expected.

The C minor Fantasia, KV 396/385f, has been rather overshadowed by Mozart’s later fantasia in the same key. There are good reasons for this, among them the earlier work’s unfinished status, though we shall probably never know quite how much Maximilian Stadler’s completion owes to Mozart, and the fact that it was conceived as a movement for violin and piano. It works very well as we heard it here, though — and certainly did under Hewitt’s fingers. Her opening (and Mozart’s) offered a fine sense of ‘preluding’ extemporisation, even tending a little towards the Gothic-to-come (which naturally had roots in what had already come). This was music ‘in search of…’ and eventually it found what it needed, coalescing strongly around the relative major, E-flat, at the close of the exposition. The Sturm und Drang of the development might have come from one of the piano concertos. Above all, this was a rich, spacious performance that was yet full of life.

The C major Sonata, KV 330/300h, received a detailed, lively performance. The opening of the first movement, and much else in it, can readily sound fussy, but not here. Hewitt’s shading of dynamics and articulation trod that tightrope with security and conviction. There were a few times when I wondered whether greater dynamic contrast might have been in order, not least in the development, but that is more a matter of taste than anything else. Taking the second repeat emphasised the seriousness of Hewitt’s approach; it is difficult to imagine anyone wanting to have done without in context. The Andante cantabile was beautifully sung, at a well-chosen tempo. It went deeper than its predecessor, which is probably right. Hewitt voiced a properly Mozartian sadness for the central F minor episode. I occasionally missed the greater flexibility some pianists might have brought here, but that was not her way, which had an undeniable integrity of its own. That relative straightforwardness certainly paid off one more in the finale: again, not a hint of fussiness, though there is much going on. Hewitt traced a judicious path of detail without pedantry. She also conveyed suggestively and engagingly Mozart’s implied contrasts of solo and tutti.

The D minor Fantasia benefited from a dark, rich opening, Hewitt’s performance imbued with great dramatic immediacy here and throughout. The pianist used silences and phrase endings with great intelligence, just as much as the notes ‘themselves’. The short D major concluding section (almost certainly Stadler) gave the strong impression of originating in what had gone before.

To follow it with the A major Sonata, KV 331/300i, was a surprise well-conceived and executed. Its first movement, the well-known theme and variations, also proved finely detailed: full of variation even before the variations themselves. Once more, Hewitt used the piano to suggest an orchestra beyond it, whilst remaining true to her (and Mozart’s) instrument. This was definitely Mozart, not Mozart-straining-to-be-Reger. Each variation possessed its own character, yet formed part of an intelligently planned greater sequence. One felt (as well as saw and heard) the sheer delight of crossing hands. Hewitt, moreover, offered some light, stylish ornamentation of her own. The second movement emerged in similar spirit: a minuet for piano, not a minuet that happened to be played on piano. Likewise, its mellow, euphonious trio, at times but a stone’s throw from Schubert, yet at others distant indeed: always in Mozart’s spirit. The ‘Turkish Rondo’ seemed in turn to respond to what had preceded it, which is far from always the case. Its ‘Janissary’ style was relished, but as means to a musical, rondo-finale end rather than an end in itself. It was charming, fun, and at times not a little whimsical.

As an encore, we were treated to the slow movement of the A minor Sonata, KV 310/300d. A direct yet similarly detailed performance included a markedly turbulent central section. Always, the music flowed.

Mark Berry

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