Recital at University of Notre Dame, Indiana

2006-02-16 / South Bend Tribune / Jack Walton

Red-shoed pianist creates, sustains interest in Bach’s music

Usually, a classical musician’s outfit doesn’t stand out or surprise.

Angela Hewitt’s red lipstick, dress and shoes, however, made an impression Tuesday at the University of Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts.

As hypnotizing as her hands were as they sped over the Steinway’s keys, it was the bright red shoe, poised over the sustain pedal, that was the focal point of note.

Hewitt’s use of a piano’s sustain and dynamics on two long Johann Sebastian Bach harpsichord works was every bit as eye-opening as the critical praise of her records claims it to be. She spoke on the subject of piano readings of Bach at a lecture earlier in the day and demonstrated her ideas fully that evening.

The piano allowed Hewitt to bring the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor (BWV 903) to a thunderous climax impossible with the harpsichord. Similarly, the instrument afforded her the means to explore variations in volume and attack in the tricky Partita No. 4 in D major (BWV 828), a piece that includes several metrical challenges. As the music shifted among time signatures such as 9/8, 3/2 and 6/4, Hewitt colored with her own subtle touch.

François Couperin’s Treizième Ordre” was the concert’s greatest revelation. Another converted harpsichord composition, it blends breathtaking music and a suggestive inspiration, evoking images of characters arriving at a masquerade. Why the suite is not yet well-known is puzzling. Perhaps Hewitt’s “discovery” of the work will finally bring it the status it deserves.

Hewitt’s thoughtfully organized program ended with Maurice Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” and an encore of Frederic Chopin’s Prelude in D-flat Major, Opus 28 No. 15, “The Raindrop.” The works bookended the first selections nicely, the Ravel a tribute to Couperin and the Chopin known to be inspired by Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier.”

Like her predecessor and fellow Canadian Glenn Gould, Hewitt is defining keyboard works of Bach and other composers for a generation, but where Gould had an unfortunate tendency to mumble and groan while playing, Hewitt left the vocal sounds for the audience, who gasped more than once.”