Mozart like you’ve never heard Mozart before: Angela Hewitt at the Wigmore Hall

United KingdomUnited Kingdom R. Schumann, Mozart: Angela Hewitt (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 19.12.2023. (JC)

Angela Hewitt © Richard Termine

Mozart – Rondo in A minor, K. 511; Piano Sonata in F major, K. 533/494; Twelve variations on ‘Ah! vous dirai-je, maman’, K. 265/300e
Robert Schumann – Piano Sonata No.1 in F sharp minor, Op.11

Angela Hewitt gave a magical recital of Mozart and Robert Schumann’s music at the Wigmore Hall. Publicly paying tribute to a close friend of hers who died recently, as well as acknowledging the death of a familiar Wigmore Hall trustee right before the recital, Hewitt’s playing in moments expanded into a deeply personal dimension which compelled us to hold our breaths and marvel at the purity of the music.

The concert opened with one of the most enigmatic and poignant of Mozart’s compositions, the Rondo in A minor, K. 511. Angela Hewitt’s interpretation allowed the long chromatic melodies to interweave whilst paying close attention to the subtlest change in harmony; not even the slightest semitonal step escaped her scrutiny, and the result was a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of impressions, both fleeting and distinguishable at once.

But it was her performance of Mozart’s Sonata in F major, K. 533, that was perhaps the most remarkable. She showed how naturally she understands the music through the handling of the repeats. Despite not changing much — neither adding too much extra ornamentation nor radically altering the articulation — Angela Hewitt managed to reveal the same melodic themes in a completely different light. The air of spontaneity created by these tastefully subtle changes made Mozart’s music come very much alive under Hewitt’s fingers. Whether or not these were carefully considered changes or spontaneous extemporisations is beside the point; Hewitt made us hear Mozart as if we’ve never heard Mozart before. Through her interpretation, she showed her audience how Mozart’s melodies reveal themselves to her and, combined with her refined taste and sense of humour, made for a very compelling performance. Nor did she shy away from the more unexpected and dramatic moments in the Rondo movement of the sonata, which made the return of the same music box-esque and pure first theme wildly different each time.

Following that Rondo movement, Angela Hewitt rounded off the first half with Mozart’s variations on another plain and simple theme, the popular French children’s song ‘Ah! vous dirai-je, maman’. A decidedly less distinguished composition than the two preceding pieces — Mozart cannot be fully blamed; it is one of the plainest albeit eternally memorable melodies imaginable — Hewitt nevertheless showed a symphonic imagination in her performance of this crowd pleaser, ending the first half in a light-hearted mood.

Schumann’s underrated First Piano Sonata dominated the second half of the recital. A piece which requires great physical endurance and concentration, it has often been taken for a virtuosic showpiece, but Angela Hewitt highlighted the lyrical aspect of the music in her playing, giving varied shapes to the rather brief, angular motifs which spread across the sonata, contouring and linking them into one coherent whole. Some of Hewitt’s most beautiful playing in this recital was in the second movement, where she really gave the melody time to slowly unravel and reveal itself in all its purity and fragility. After some very quirky and humorous moments in the Scherzo in which her playing could almost make you laugh, Hewitt took a deep breath and launched into the relentless finale. Taking it at a relatively slower pace, she showed how at her tempo lyricism could be found in the most unexpected of places. Her playing also captured the schizophrenic nature of the quick alternations between Florestan and Eusebius, the duo of sensationally contrasting fictional characters in Schumann’s music, holding her audience’s breath with her capacity for dramatic playing and finishing the evening with a grand flourish.

For her encore, Angela played the beautiful ‘Morgen!’ from Richard Strauss’s Vier Leider, Op.27, arranged for piano solo by Max Reger.

Jeremy Chan

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