Hewitt has recorded all of Bach’s keyboard works, and is currently partway through a project involving the live performance of his whole keyboard oeuvre. Wednesday night’s concert programme for Musica Viva consisted of two Bach Partitas, along with pieces by Scarlatti, Ravel and Chabrier. Confidently taking to the stage with a dazzling smile and wearing an ensemble allowing a glimpse of alluring calves and elegant stilettos at the pedals, Angela has an imposing and genial stage presence, combined with a lack of affectation that allows the music to take centre stage.
In his 1802 biography of Bach, JN Forkel described the impact of the six partitas on the music world: “this work caused quite a sensation among his contemporaries in the world of music; such splendid keyboard compositions had never been previously seen or heard. Whoever learned to perform any of these pieces to a high standard could make his fortune in the world.” Although this is no less true today, with these pieces demanding a high level of technical mastery, they are more than just show pieces or expositions of keyboard virtuosity – they are melodic and joyous pieces to be enjoyed as much for their musicality as their technical difficulty. This was evident in Angela’s rapt absorption – she frequently appeared lost in the music, as her immaculate and precise handwork delivered a rarely experienced sonic clarity to these difficult pieces. Her minimalist and clean approach allowed the complex ornamentation that typifies these works to shine and resonate – her skill is such that she makes these challenging compositions look deceptively easy, to the extent that we were not sure that all of the audience appreciated how supremely difficult these pieces really are!
After the interval came a series of five delightful Scarlatti sonatas. These short, evocative pieces are but a tiny fraction of the total of 555 sonatas written by Scarlatti for his talented pupil and patron, Princess Maria Barbara of Portugal, later the Queen of Spain (from 1746). Although more playful, and arguably less cerebral than Bach, these pieces also demand high levels of technical skill. These five sonatas were fresh and lively examples of the whole, with moments of pure energy in musical form, brought to life by Hewitt’s crisp playing, proclaiming each embellishment and ornament as statement in its own right.
Image © Karen Hutt
Gillian Wills, in her excellent pre-concert talk, made reference to Angela Hewitt’s preference for what she termed very exposed composition; pieces constructed around just two or three notes, leaving the pianist ‘nowhere to hide’. This was once again evident in her choice of Ravel’s 'Sonatine', which followed the Scarlatti. With much of the playing concentrated in the middle registers of the keyboard, including intricate crossovers and sections where the hands literally overlap, the melody seamlessly shifts from one hand to the other and back again, in an intricate dance across the keys. The technique required for the third movement in particular is very demanding, so much so that the composer himself rarely played the last movement in public, considering it beyond his own talents as a pianist!
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Angela Hewitt concluded the concert with Chabrier’s 'Bourrée Fantasque', completing a journey of increasing musical complexity to huge applause. She returned for an encore, playing Debussy’s 'Clair de Lune', ably demonstrating that her ability to provide ample subtlety of expression when needed. Many commented after the performance that her playing had rejuvenated this oft heard piece, sweeping away jaded connotations of familiarity, and reinstating it as a deserved jewel of pianistic accomplishment.
The Brisbane concert was presented in memory of Dr Steven Kinston. Angela Hewitt continues her Musica Viva tour with dates in Melbourne, Newcastle, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney still to come.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Partita no 1 in B-flat major, BWV825 (1726)
Partita no 4 in D major, BWV828 (1728)
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Sonata in D major, Kk491
Sonata in D major, Kk492
Sonata in B major, Kk377
Sonata in E major, Kk380
Sonata in A major, Kk24
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894)
'Bourrée Fantasque' (1891)
Musica Viva's Angela Hewitt Tour Dates16 May – Melbourne Recital Centre
18 May – Newcastle Conservatorium Of Music
20 May – Melbourne Recital Centre
23 May – Perth Concert Hall
25 May – Adelaide Town Hall
27 May – City Recital Hall (Sydney)