William Ford | 09 MAR 2020
A few years while in Pittsburgh, I had the opportunity to talk with an international “A-List” piano soloist. When he found out that I live in Atlanta, he began extolling the virtues of the acoustics at Spivey Hall, where he had recently performed. Of course, it is no secret that Spivey is a wonderful setting for smaller-sized concerts and recitals; its warm, reverberant acoustics flatter any instrumental sound. Pianist Angela Hewitt returned to this wonderful auditorium this weekend to perform several works of Bach, in whose work she specializes.
Ms. Hewitt has been given numerous awards for her pianistic skills, including the Companion of the Order of Canada and an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II. She has seven honorary doctorates and is a Visting Fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge. She is also the founder of the Trasimeno Music Festival in Italy. She concertizes the world over, and in 2016 began her “Bach Odyssey,” performing his complete keyboard works in a series of 12 recitals. This entire cycle is scheduled to be completed with The Art of the Fugue, to be performed in London, New York, Ottawa, Tokyo, and Florence. She will soon be awarded the Leipzig Bach Medal, the first woman to receive the award. She will also be receiving the Wigmore Hall Award. This year marks the 18th anniversary of her debut at Spivey Hall.
Ms. Hewitt wrote the program notes for the recital; they are informative and concise. The program began with Bach’s Four Duets, BWV 802-805, published in 1739. They are called duets because there are two voices (they may have originally been conceived for the organ). Bach’s inventiveness, precision, and canonic skills are apparent throughout the works. A main them can become subordinate to a secondary theme and then return as the main theme, with all kinds of thematic development in-between. As was the case throughout this recital, Hewitt breathes life into the works with sophisticated dynamics and technical precision. She plays them as Baroque works, yet with inflections that make them a bit more warm, and less mechanical.
The next wok was Bach’s Eighteen Little Preludes, developed from finger exercises composed by the master, as well as instructional pieces for his son’s compositional development. As noted by Hewitt “Even in these little pieces, big decisions have to be made concerning tempo, phrasing, articulation, dynamics, and timing…” Many of these preludes only exist as written down by others rather than by the composer. There is a range of moods presented in the preludes, ranging from happy, tender, to grand. Hewitt not only has the technical prowess to play these sometimes difficult preludes convincingly, but the sophistication to convey their emotional overlay.
The first half of the recital concluded with the Fantasia and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 944 (1714). Most notable is the Fugue comprised mostly of sixteenth notes; it is a tornadic torrent of notes that ends almost abruptly. I am not sure how Hewitt manages to sustain the energy needed to keep up with the technical demands of the work, but she does so with dazzling finger work and a solid pace.
After the intermission, Hewitt performed Bach’s French Overture in B Minor, BWV 831 (1735). With eleven movements that take about 30 minutes to perform. The work begins with an Overture that is halting and rhythmically unusual, much like the overture in his orchestral suites. Each movement is named after a popular dance that Bach captures in his music. The composer also includes dynamic markings, usually terraced, which was unusual in the Baroque. Again, Hewitt provided a nuanced performance that was never lost energy or direction. One could imagine that mere mortals would be exhausted after performing these difficult pieces, but not a pianist of such extraordinary gifts.
As if that were not enough, the program continued with the Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971. The first section, Allegro, contains a fair amount of Baroque ornamentation, with significant rests that add drama. The second movement, Andante, is quite beautiful, again with significant ornamentation, in the Italian style. The final movement, Presto, is full of energy and it provides a grand finale to the piece.
In response to numerous curtain calls, Ms. Hewitt performed an encore of “Wachet auf” arranged for piano By Wilhelm Kempff. It was a wonderful ending to a very special recital by the masterful Angela Hewitt.
Angela Hewitt again demonstrated her consummate technical skill and musicality in this over two-hour long recital that remained fresh from beginning to end. She is a master at bringing life to the music of one of the world’s greatest composers. ■