Beethoven in Detroit

2007-02-03 / Detroit News / Lawrence B. Johnson

DSO performs genuine Beethoven concert

When pianist Angela Hewitt talks about the vitality and freshness of the young Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, she puts her heart, head and fingers behind those words. Her performance Friday morning with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was illuminating, a pure delight – a virtual glimpse back in time to how this music must have sounded when it was created and Beethoven was the 25-year-old soloist, newly arrived in Vienna from his native Bonn, Germany.

Hewitt’s playing, with guest conductor Matthias Bamert, radiated joy, wit and brilliance, as well as a sense of continuity that reached back to Mozart and just as assuredly to Bach. In short, this was authentic” early Beethoven, but mercifully unconstrained by the pretensions of scholarly correctness. One heard nothing antiquarian, dusty, alien but only passionate, exciting virtuosity that made the 1790s seem quite new.

The First Piano Concerto, it should be noted, is not exactly Beethoven’s first in the form. It came after the work published as Piano Concerto No. 2. In any case, it is the work of a young craftsman already at the top of his game.

And Hewitt had fun with it, charging its animated rhythms with irresistible energy and sorting out its bravura contrapuntal lines with an ease and clarity that reflected her own celebrated mastery of Bach. In the opening movement, she offered a prodigious solo cadenza that Beethoven wrote in his later years, a lengthy fantasy that left one wishing for nothing more than to hear this Canadian pianist in a solo recital.

After a ruminative, lyrical slow movement, Hewitt zipped into Beethoven’s rambunctious finale with her technical banners unfurled. Her playing was brisk, smartly articulated, jovial, vivacious. And Bamert kept the chamber-scaled exactly with her, in stride and spirit alike.

The Swiss-born Bamert, music director of the London Mozart Players and a veteran guest on the international orchestra circuit, opened his all-Beethoven program with a heroic account of the “Creatures of Prometheus” Overture and finished with a sunny, songful turn through the “Pastoral” Symphony.
Once more presiding over a classically downsized ensemble, Bamert drew elegant, buoyant playing from the strings matched by perky woodwinds in a multicolored portrait of nature framed by the human heart. There was much humanity in this concert – the very essence of authentic Beethoven.”