Some artists make it really easy to fall in love with them. Angela
Hewitt is one such artist. Grace, wit, ease and skill somehow
come together in a way that makes for an immediate, visceral response
to her music-making, in concert and on disc, alike. Not because
she is a ‘more superior’ pianist - there are plenty of keyboard
artists who have an ever greater technique or are more powerful,
play a broader repertoire, or have more obvious flair. Instead
it is because of an air she exudes that I guess to be a particular
combination of musicality, integrity and the inherent joy she
takes in it all.
she seems to be tackling composers by letter - Bach, now Beethoven,
Chopin, Chabrier, and Couperin, Ravel and Rameau - I follow with
interest and delight, happily collecting her recordings and enjoying
her recitals when I catch them. When I first
heard her in the Goldberg Variations, at the National Gallery
of Art, in Washington, I even allowed the inner groupie to get
out and go for her autograph. When I heard her – of all things
– play the Brahms
f-minor sonata, it was far-and-away the most enjoyable and
impressive of all technically lacking performances I’ve witnessed.
Hyperion has released a DVD of Angela Hewitt lecturing on “Bach
Performance on the Piano” timed to coincide with her Well
Tempered Clavier World Tour. Erudite, experienced, charming,
and clearly one of the foremost Bach pianists of our time, who
could be more qualified to talk about Phrasing, Tone, Articulation,
Fingering, Pedaling, Tempos, Dynamics, Rhythmic Alterations, Ornamentation
and Editions for and of Bach’s work? Or so I would have thought.
if you feel anything like I do about Hewitt, and you don’t want
that to change: I must recommend you stay away from this DVD.
Not that her insights on the topics above – which are the chapters
into which the lecture DVD is divided – are not interesting
and helpful to layperson and Bach-performer. Angela Hewitt’s
scholarship is beyond reproach even where her opinions are strong
and definitive. Would we really expect less from a performing
entire effort is more the scholarly type, aimed at helping players
improve their Bach skills, warn them of the pitfalls, coaxing
them into performing Bach the “right way”. Those of us who do
not hope to attain or regain the skill to play any but the most
simple of Bach pieces will come away from this with a greater
appreciation of what goes into a Bach performance. We are offered
a glimpse into the complexities beyond the notes. The two and
a half hour lecture probably achieves both. All the more lamentable
is it that the production of this DVD is so amateurish in so
in the Fazioli Pianoforti factory - talk about product placement!
- the camerawork is professional enough. Not so, the sound. Especially
in the segment with Daniel Müller-Schott - who has recently released
the Gamba Suites with Hewitt on Orfeo - the two artists’ voices,
grunts, and vocal nods of agreement are all caught on the audio
track well beyond what would be natural. Their painfully awkward
interaction is enhanced by the absence of good editing. Stiff
and shy, Müller-Schott comes across as a little, über-proper
the worst element of this DVD is surely Angela Hewitt’s manner
of speech. Everything seems overly rehearsed and all-too carefully
prepared. It becomes increasingly ironic how everything she
teaches and tells us about good Bach performance and which is
amply present in her supreme Bach playing is precisely and obviously
lacking in her skills of oratory. Like a student reciting a
poem he or she has memorized, but never internalized, Hewitt’s
lecture comes across as stilted and self-conscious. It is precisely
the un-spontaneous nature of her phrasing, tone, articulation,
and rhythmic alterations that is the detriment of this lecture.
She is never relaxed, always achingly sincere in her modification
and enunciation of the text. As a result, it feels denatured.
A stock of ten different facial expressions is employed to underline
points and ‘liven it up’. But the repetition becomes near comical.
Eyebrows up, blink-blink-blink, head tilt, switch to the other
side of her profile, blink-blink-blink, portentous pause. Da
capo ad infinitum. Add to that that watching Mme. Hewitt
perform from an up-close, frontal perspective, is about as appealing
as seeing Cecilia Bartoli sing when the camera zooms in. Every
note gets its own, felt expression.
don’t doubt for a second that Angela Hewitt’s expressions are
anything less than 100% genuine – much like Bernstein’s, who
just couldn’t help moving his entire body along when he conducted.
But it can be rather distracting – even if Hewitt defends this
as a necessity in playing music, quoting C.P.E. Bach to that
extent, and declaring that anyone performing on the piano only
from the elbows down could not possibly touch the audience’s
emotions. Anyone who has ever been moved by a Rubinstein performance
- and perhaps not by a Lang Lang performance - will want
to shyly raise their hand in objection.
crafted chapters” on these various topics is what the back-cover
promises – and it is what the viewer gets: all too carefully crafted,
alas. Compare to that the relaxed, inviting, and charming, though
no less opinionated, lectures of András Schiff on Beethoven’s
sonatas (available on The
Guardian Unlimited website). I was able to make it through
the Introduction, “The Essentials”, “Interpretation”, “The Dance
in Bach”, and the first few subsections of “Learning a Fugue”.
After that I turned the picture off and merely listened to the
audio track of “Ornamentation” and “Practical Advice”. Although
that still didn’t turn Mme. Hewitt into an enigmatic speaker,
it was a marked improvement.
For its educational purpose, this DVD might have its merit but
especially as an admirer of Angela Hewitt, I cannot, indeed, must
not recommend this DVD. It comes with a second DVD of filmed performances
of Partita No. 4, the Italian Concerto, and the Chromatic Fantasy
all expertly played and tastefully caressed as one would expect.
Jens F Laurson