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S & H Concert Review

ANGELA HEWITT (piano) at Wigmore Hall Bach, Couperin, Ravel with encores by Chabrier and Scarlatti 29 May 2002 (PGW)

Trying to escape from her type-casting as a Bach specialist, Angela Hewitt was welcomed by a full house for a mixed recital which looked good on paper and was associated with her recording of Ravel's piano music (Hyperion CDA67341/2). Her last appearance at Wigmore Hall had varied the familiar diet with Bach arrangements by many later composers. Best in this recital however still was Bach - his English Suite No 3, where her way with the counterpoint had one constantly listening to the (usually) two voices simultaneously, far more easily than when hearing it on harpsichord.

Couperin on the piano was less convincing, and although Hewitt's preferred Fazioli piano gave clarity to the eight pieces of the 6th Ordre from Book 2 of his Pièces de Clavecin, so that we could savour her crisp ornamentation, it was at the expense of warmth - I find them far preferable on the instrument intended, and Olivier Beaumont's recording on harpsichord (Erato) is a good one. Couperin was programmed as an obvious complement to the Ravel Tombeau de Couperin, but succeeding all eight of those pieces (four of them rondeaus) with music of a not dissimilar form was perhaps inadvisable; the elegance of the Ravel was somehow too close.

Notable was the Bach-like fugue (omitted from the orchestral version) which benefited from Angela Hewitt's contrapuntal expertise. The Faziloi certainly helped her fastidious articulation, but there was an enervating dryness in the tone; Perlemuter's legendary Nimbus recording from the 1970s, at breakfast next morning, sounded preferable in all ways. Gaspard de la Nuit is featured by so many pianists, and played so often at Wigmore Hall, that it is a particular challenge. To illustrate how competitive is this repertoire, I preferred a recent more exciting account of it at the London International Piano Competition by Alexei Zouev (a 19 year old Russian) who brought to bear transcendental technique, the fullest palette of pianistic colour and finely attuned ears, and he didn't even reach the finals! Again, I suspect the choice of piano may have been part of the problem; more detail, less atmosphere than, for good example, in Perlemuter's benchmark accounts (Nimbus NI 7713/4). For encores, Angela Hewitt gave the delicious Idylle of Chabrier, one of Ravel's favourite composers and mine, and a rather splashy account of one of the more flashy sonatas by Scarlatti, whose 60 Sonatas were the only music Roland-Manuel ever saw out on the piano in Ravel's Paris flat.

It will be interesting to hear the studio recording of Angela Hewitt's new double-CD of the complete Ravel solo piano music.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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