Recital in Ann Arbor, Michigan

2010-02-11 / / Susan Isaacs Nisbett

Angela Hewitt plays with poetry and panache in Hill Auditorium concert

Big, bold pianism is a wonderful thing, especially when it is comes from the inside out and is shored up with all the supporting details. It’s the sort of pianism, never forced but at once natural and dramatic, that Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, very much at one with her instrument, delivered Wednesday evening in a long-overdue University Musical Society debut at Hill Auditorium.

Bach — a Hewitt touchstone — Beethoven and Brahms were on Hewitt’s program. And from the opening “Italian Concerto” through early Beethoven and Brahms to her closing Bach encore (a Wilhelm Kempff arrangement of the chorale prelude “Wachet Auf”), Hewitt was rivetingly focused. And so was the audience — no coughing, just a parallel intensity of listening.

Now, not every detail cohered, nor did every choice add up. In the Bach, for example, Hewitt’s caffeinated tempi in the outer movements had the whiz-bang clarity of her playing on their side. Yet key cadential moments could be mumbled, rushed past without heed for the punctuation; at other times, in the context of her exciting headlong stride, expressive stretching seemed excessive.

But the athleticism and poetry of the playing were attractive in equal parts. In this concerto, soli and tutti sections were marvelously delineated, the Andante movement sang, and harmonic subtleties were beautifully observed, timbrally and dynamically.

In the Bach, and in the Beethoven Sonata that followed and the Brahms sonata that occupied the program’s second half, Hewitt exercised a sort of orchestral imagination in her playing. That imagination extended not only to her artist’s palette of colorations, but to her ear for motivic development and her sensitivity to underlying pulse.

So her playing had immense vitality and immediacy as well as a sense of organic growth. She played with brawn and panache where the music cried out for it, and with delicacy and tenderness when demanded. And she erected large structures and big arches where they were needed — and where they are not always easy to find. Like in the finale of the Brahms Sonata No. 3 in f minor, Op. 5, whose disparate parts cohered magnificently.

Meanwhile, in the Beethoven Sonata in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3, she played so as to make the minuet grow, quasi attacca, out of the slow, tender and dramatic story of the preceding Largo, and to make the mercurial final rondo emerge from the minuet. If the individual movements of the Beethoven were imbued with great character on their own, the whole succeeded in being greater than the parts.