Chamber Music in London

2006-04-13 / The Guardian / Andrew Clements

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Angela Hewitt’s recitals and concerto appearances have made her a firm favourite with London audiences, but there have been far fewer opportunities to appreciate her pedigree as a chamber musician. Hewitt was the common denominator in this all-French programme with the violin- and cello-playing brothers Renaud and Gautier Capuçon and quickly showed that the qualities that distinguish her solo pianism adapt wonderfully well to ensemble work.
She also has the priceless virtue for chamber playing of being a musician who listens intently to what her colleagues are doing. Partnering Gautier Capuçon in Debussy’s Cello Sonata, Hewitt was alive to every twist and turn of his rhapsodically passionate approach, supplying the coolly neutral element, poised and crystalline, in a work that is balanced between formalist restraint and instinctive fantasy, and which anticipates a very different kind of neoclassicism from the one that Stravinsky would create just a handful of years after the sonata was written.

In Ravel’s Piano Trio, too, Hewitt’s playing provided the matrix on to which the two Capuçons could etch their warmly expressive string lines, and the trio was then joined by violinist Jack Liebeck and viola player Antoine Tamestit for César Franck’s Piano Quintet.

After Debussy and Ravel, Franck’s lush harmonic world and strivingly passionate melodic invention was like stepping into a warm bath, yet textures never became saturated or overheated. Hewitt’s light touch ensured that the hefty piano writing never seemed over-bearing, and her rhythmic alertness gave a constant sense of purpose and momentum to music that can easily lose its way in rhetoric.

Liszt was apparently affronted by Franck’s Quintet, feeling it strayed outside the boundaries of legitimate chamber music into territory that was properly the province of the orchestra. But this performance suggested no false ambitions; this was authentic chamber music, performed in a very classy way that convincingly combined grandeur with intimacy.