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S & H Recital Review

J. S. Bach, F. Couperin, D. Scarlatti Angela Hewitt (piano). Wigmore Hall, Monday, September 15th, 2003 (CC)

The Canadian way with Bach is evidently not to be sniffed at. Angela Hewitt shares with her distinguished predecessor who specialised in Bach on the piano, Glenn Gould, a complete dedication to her cause. She differs in her absence of irritating mannerisms, though.

Miss Hewitt’s Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert was packed: there was even a healthy number of people prepared to stand at the back of the hall. The concert began with an announcement that in the rescheduling of BBC broadcasts, there is no space for a regular spot for regular rebroadcasts of these much-loved concerts, so they will be repeated as and when. A severe disappointment for followers of these wonderful events, then: especially when the playing is as inspired as here.

Angela Hewitt is as convincing in Bach as she is in Messiaen. Although her most recent recording is of the six English Suites (to be released later this month), we the audience were treated to the Sixth and Fifth French Suites (to give them in order of performance). Her playing was little short of remarkable. Hewitt has a rock-solid rhythmic sense that gives the music an unshakeable integrity. Above and beyond this, the moods were many. In the sixth French Suite alone, she moved from the civility of the Allemande, through the fluent Courante (it did, indeed, appear to be ‘running’) to the stately Sarabande, the eloquently simple Menuet and a final Gigue which was clarity in sound. Furthermore, Hewitt has evidently studied the acoustics of the Wigmore intently, for even from the very back of the hall there was not the slightest hint of a smudge.

The marvellously whimsical mind of François Couperin made an ideal contrast. Interesting how the first piece of the 27th Ordre, entitled, ‘L’exquise’, began in a remarkably robust fashion. The quirky, highly ornate ‘Les payots’ followed (depicting, according to Lindsay Kemp’s programme note, ‘the sleep-inducing properties of poppy juice’!). The quirkiness was continued in ‘Les chinois’, a remarkable window into a clearly unique mind, before the final ‘Saillie’ (a ‘leap’) rounded the whole off with oodles of fun.

Domenico Scarlatti can hardly be accused of being a predictable composer, either. If the hyper-delicate B minor Sonata, Kk87 spoke of the deepest sadness in Hewitt’s hands, the G major Kk13 stood in joyous contrast. Hands crossed each other, vying with expert repeated notes for the cheers of the rightly appreciative audience.

To come back to Bach was to return to a more ordered world, but a world of undisputed genius nonetheless. If Hewitt confirmed she was, after all, human by the smallest of losses of clarity in the Allemande, this movement nevertheless held remarkable inevitability and calm. The fragile beauty of the Sarabande made it the Suite’s still centre of peaceful gravity; it was the ‘Laure,’ however, that emerged as the emotive heart of this account. True, the Gavotte (which surely everyone knows) was highly attentive to style, ornaments always stylish and tasteful, but of all the movements it was the life-affirming energy of the final Gigue that will remain with this listener. One could see how much Hewitt was enjoying playing this. And the applause said how much the audience revelled in it.

The new season of Monday Lunchtime concerts could hardly have got off to a better start.

Colin Clarke



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