Montreal recital

2002-09-30 / Montréal Gazette / Arthur Kaptainis

Ladies Morning Musical Club

Ottawa-born Angela Hewitt has virtually cornered the market on Bach as played on a piano. She showed us how and why yesterday in Pollack Hall – while making it clear that her aptitude extends far beyond the baroque.

She began this opening event in the Ladies’ Morning Musical Club season with two of Bach’s freeform Toccatas. There are interludes in the D Major work that could be mistaken for reveries of Liszt, and Hewitt approached them accordingly, with improvisatory abandon. But there was no price to pay in clarity, as the concluding fugues of this score and particularly the Toccata in E Minor were as brilliant and transparent as one could hope.

The English Suite No. 6 in D Minor was also a marvel of polish and exactitude, most strikingly in the lengthy Prelude, which Hewitt started slowly before shifting up to a lively Allegro. Chords were arpeggiated to touching effect in the Sarabande, the only respite in this stern and powerful suite.

After intermission Hewitt played Ravel’s Sonatine with comparable control of dynamics and a consistently pure and songful treble line. The fadeout at the end of the first movement was ravishing. Does this pianist play Ravel à la Bach or Bach à la Ravel? Suffice it to say that she has found an ideal of clarity and expression that is suited to each.

And to Liszt’s monumental Sonata in B Minor, as it turned out. Decorative flurries were distinctly CD-ready, and the chorales had a noble, handsome ring. The fugue, inevitably, was superb. Nor were the famous bravura passages unattended to, although perhaps in this department Hewitt can be ranked safely as an ordinary superstar.

The final page, in which the music seems to expand in transcendence as it contracts in volume, was beautifully contoured. Still, repertoire as standard as this requires insights correspondingly original. I sense that Hewitt has yet to give her best B Minor.

Strauss’s song Morgen!, as transcribed by Max Reger, was the flamboyantly sensuous and un-Bachian encore. As always, Hewitt was a picture of elegance on stage. Last week she won a $15,000 Governor-General’s Award. That should just about pay for her dress.