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Angela Hewitt plays Handel and Haydn
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Chaconne (with 21 variations) in G major, HWV435 (1733) [7:28]
Suite No 2 in F major, HWV427 (1720) [10:08]
Suite No 8 in f minor, HWV433 (1720) [12:55]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sonata ‘Un piccolo divertimento’ (Variations in f minor) Hob XVII:6 (1793) [16:39]
Piano Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI:52 (1794) [20:15]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
rec. Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany, March 2009. DDD.
HYPERION CDA67736 [67:25] 
Experience Classicsonline


Regular readers will know that I don’t like Bach or Handel on the piano, with very few exceptions. Glenn Gould is one and Angela Hewitt the other main exception. She performs their music with such lightness of touch that she might almost be playing a harpsichord or fortepiano, yet without any suggestion that she is imitating what might be produced by a player of either of those instruments. I have sometimes wondered why she doesn’t play the harpsichord but it’s really a fatuous question; these are thoroughly pianistic performances. 

In any case, those who insist on the harpsichord in this music have an excellent alternative, also on the Hyperion label: on CDD22045, a well-reviewed 2-for-1 set, Paul Nicholson performs Suites 1-8 and a number of Fugues. Reviewing a companion 2-CD set of Handel’s Organ Concertos (CDD22052) Peter Lawson described Nicholson’s performances as ‘extremely enjoyable’. Alternatively, there are the three fine volumes of Handel’s harpsichord music recorded by Sophie Yates on the Chandos Chaconne label (CHAN0644, 0669 and 0688). 

As for Angel Hewitt’s playing here, I can’t put it better than the Hyperion website, referring to her ‘clarity of line, singing tone ... instinctive musicality ... [and] urbane elegance’. 

The opening Chaconne and the Suite No.2 in F which follows have long been components of Angela Hewitt’s repertoire; she writes of having studied (and memorised) the Suite at the age of fifteen and the Chaconne very soon after, which accounts for the consummate ease with which she plays both works. There have, of course, been many changes in attitudes to the performance of baroque keyboard music in the intervening years and she shows full awareness of these in the notes. 

The Bärenreiter score of the Chaconne is quite different from the version which she originally learned, itself closer to the Peters version. Without confusing the reader with detail, she acknowledges that she has stuck to the version which she learned, thereby allying her performance with that of Edwin Fischer, though she admits that the other version sounds more convincing when played on the harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock. I don’t have that version to check what she says: I don’t believe that it’s currently available – indeed, versions of this Chaconne are decidedly thin on the ground. 

Nor, unfortunately, did I have a copy of Murray Perahia’s piano version of the Chaconne on a Sony/BMG CD which also includes Suite No.2. I can only note that Perahia takes 7:58 for the Chaconne against Hewitt’s 7:28, that he sounds noticeably slower than her on the short extract which I have been able to listen to on the web and that her tempo for the work strikes me as exactly right. Perahia’s timings for Suite No.2 are so much shorter than Hewitt’s that I can only assume that he omits repeats. In all fairness I should point out that this recording (SK62785), on which Perahia plays Handel and Scarlatti, featured as one of David Barker’s Classic Classics here on MusicWeb International. What I can say with confidence is that I thoroughly enjoyed Angel Hewitt’s account of both Suite No.2 and Suite No.8. 

The pairing of Handel and Haydn may seem rather odd, apart from the fact that 2009 brings the 250th anniversary of the death of the former and the 200th of the death of the latter. Be that as it may, I found Hewitt’s Haydn just as enjoyable as her Handel. The requirements of a good Haydn performance may be different from those needed for Handel, but those qualities which I have quoted at the beginning of this review from the Hyperion webpage stand her in equally good stead here. Despite the advocacy of Brendel (Philips – several multi-CD collections: the best value is the 4-CD Originals 478 1369), Jenö Jandó (Naxos in a 10-CD box, 8.501042, or separately: see review of Volume 10) and other pianists, these keyboard sonatas still stand very much in the shadows of Mozart and, to an even greater extent, Haydn’s rather ungrateful pupil Beethoven. 

Angel Hewitt’s account of the E-flat Sonata, Hob.XVI:52 goes a little way toward helping to redress the balance. Perhaps she and Hyperion would like to take the matter further. I know that they have recently issued two well-received 2-CD sets of Marc-André Hamelin in a number of these sonatas (CDA67554 – see review – and CDA67710: Recording of the Month – see review) duplicating between them both of the works on the Hewitt CD. Without wishing to preclude further volumes from Hamelin, I hope that they’re willing to push the Hewitt/Haydn boat out a little further. Healthy sales for the current CD would help the cause, which is where your part as the musical public begins ... 

The recording is excellent and the booklet of notes, written by Hewitt herself, all that we have come to expect from Hyperion. 

As always, the brevity of this review reflects my admiration for the CD.

Brian Wilson


 
 


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