Chamber Recital in Ottawa

2007-07-22 / Ottawa Citizen / Richard Todd

Hewitt works magic for excited crowd

Audience treated to wonderful opening night

Perfect weather; a line of eager listeners extending around the corner, down the block and around the next corner; and a very excited audience filling most of Dominion-Chalmers United Church: Yep, it must be the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival.

The fact that last night’s opening concert featured one of the world’s greatest pianists, Ottawa native Angela Hewitt, and the superb German cellist Daniel Muller-Schott probably accounted for much of the buzz, but there’s no doubt that the public is standing behind the festival, even after the disappointment of founder-director Julian Armour’s resignation earlier this year.

Clearly, the sophisticated brigade of administrators and volunteers that grew up during his tenure is functioning well this year. There were scores of familiar faces among the volunteers and audience, and spirits were high everywhere.

The program opened with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata in D for viola da gamba and keyboard. The keyboard instrument Bach had in mind was the harpsichord, but Hewitt long ago established that she can work incomparable Bach magic on the piano.

As for the cellist, he’s firmly on the same page. The cello and gamba are significantly different instruments, though Muller-Schott’s playing frequently evokes the older instrument, partly on account of his parsimonious vibrato.

The net effect was illuminating, providing a perfect beginning to the festival.

Beethoven’s G minor Sonata was up next and it too received a deeply satisfying reading. The first movement, Adagio sostenuto ed espressivo, was especially strong on the espressivo. Although the tempo was as slow as it is usually played, there was a profound sense of animation, particularly in the cello part.

Each of the remaining movements was special in its own way and the audience responded with appropriate warmth.

After intermission came an arrangement of Manuel de Falla’s Suita Popular Espanla. Compared to the rest of the program, this suite is just a bit fluffy. That turned out to be a good thing, in much the same way as the third movement of a symphony is sometimes written to relieve momentarily the music’s intensity.

In any case, it gave the cellist an opportunity to vaunt his incredible technique. (We already know about Hewitt.)

The program concluded with Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A major. Better known in its violin incarnation, it can be equally moving when played in the cello setting, especially when it’s performed as it was last night.

Franck’s music is sometimes said to be spiritual,” at least in the romantic sense of the term.

Perhaps the finest feature of this reading was its conceptual rigour, yet there were intimations of ecstasy scattered liberally in all of the movements.

Incidentally, Hewitt played a Fazioli, her favourite instrument (and almost everyone else’s). It was shipped to Ottawa especially for Hewitt’s appearances and a few other concerts.

Angela Hewitt will give a solo recital of Rameu, Beethoven and Schumann tomorrow evening at 8 p.m., once again at Dominion-Chalmers.”