Concert with the ACO in New York

2005-08-11 / / Vivien Schwetizer

A virtuosity most tasteful

Angela Hewitt searched the world for the perfect ensemble with which to record and perform Bach’s keyboard concertos. After listening to their Mostly Mozart Festival debut last night at Alice Tully Hall, it was clear why this Canadian pianist found her orchestral soulmates in the Australian Chamber Orchestra, whose finesse and excitement complement her own elegantly dynamic Bach interpretations.

The program opened with Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue K546, an effective showpiece for the ensemble’s impeccable intonation. The Haydn-influenced Fugue, with its mysterious dissonances, demonstrated a fine blend and balance among sections. The orchestra stood throughout the concert, allowing for a fuller range of movement, no doubt helping produce their broad, lush and vibrant sound. They made full use of the potential of their instruments, producing a pure, clean tone.

Hewitt, elegant in a long, turquoise gown, joined the band for Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F Minor. She is not a member of the period instrument brigade, unabashedly performing and recording Bach on a Fazioli grand piano. A harpsichord was part of the ensemble, showing that the piano and its 18th century cousin needn’t be hostile bedfellows. But the harpsichord wasn’t built to compete with the expressive, perfectly controlled and shaded lines that Hewitt coaxes from her Fazioli. And, frankly, hearing Hewitt play the beautiful second movement so ethereally could make one reluctant to hear it performed on a harpsichord again. Always expressive, she never milks a line or abuses the power of her modern instrument, and the gentle dance-like movement provided by the strings’ elegant pizzicatos ensured that the music never dragged.

Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D Minor was the second offering, and again, Hewitt’s playing was crisp, gently accented and never aggressive. She and the orchestra seemed to breathe together with virtuosity of the most tasteful kind.

As a spontaneous pre-intermission encore, Hewitt played the lively gigue from Bach’s Partita No. 1, a sort of obstacle course for the hands.

Director and violinist Richard Tognetti’s convincing reincarnation of Beethoven’s Kreutzer” sonata for violin and piano as an arrangement for violin and strings concluded the evening. Physically a much more flamboyant performer than Hewitt, he thrashed and swayed, his energy filtering down to the ensemble, which followed his electric example. His mostly beautiful sound occasionally turned harsh, but his giddy verve made up for these few tonal transgressions. Fiery and passionate, then soulful and melancholic, the ensemble took liberties with rubato while still demonstrating impressive unity.

Australia is a long way for a Canadian to travel to find a partner, but one should be glad she made the trip Down Under. Both Hewitt and the ensemble, acutely engaged and attuned, played like every note was their last. Although clearly we hope there will be many more to come.”