Recital in Bath

2010-11-14 / / Rian Evans

The fact that this is a Mozartfest doesn’t obviate the presence of other composers. This recital was certainly a veritable feast of Bach, and all the more absorbing for offering some less-frequently heard repertoire. Angela Hewitt almost tripped onto the stage – literally that is – and launched bravely and briskly into the C minor Toccata as though desperate to dispel any internal wobble factor. Performing on a Fazioli piano, the sound was as bright and forthright as she asserts to prefer for Bach and, during the interval, it inevitably prompts the resurrection of some of the arguments against the performance of Bach on modern instruments. But it is the clarity of the Fazioli tone that is so striking and Hewitt’s delivery of the Toccata’s flourishes, as well as her own clarity of line in the fugal writing, showed this admirably.
The element of display in the Toccata – Bach wrote these to show off his own keyboard prowess – contrasted with the relative, pedagogic, purity of the sequence of three-part Inventions, here more properly styled Sinfonias, Bach’s own title. Hewitt characterised those with underlying dance rhythms with a deft touch, as in the jaunty Gigue in E, so that in the following E minor Sinfonia the dramatic tension could be built all the more tellingly. The wonderful chromatic colouring of the F minor Sinfonia with its repeated leaning and aching figure, was also built unerringly by Hewitt into a huge climax, its anguish only partly dispelled in the final tierce de Picardie F major chord. The final Sinfonia of the sequence, in B minor, has more elements of toccata-like display and Hewitt despatched the rippling arpeggio figuration with her curious signature mix of gritted teeth and glee.
After the interval, Hewitt returned with an even more purposeful mien, she has removed her long sleeves – perhaps long handless gloves is a better description – and means business. But the F major English Suite has a warmly sunny character and this emerges convincingly, as do the clearly articulated rhythms of the various dances. Hewitt’s great authority was nowhere better demonstrated than in the ‘Sarabande’, which she ornamented and elaborated with both authenticity and finesse. The ‘Gigue’, with its equine jollity, was a reminder that this is the Mozartfest and that part of its validity is presenting music which helped shape the genius that was that composer. The contrapuntal lines of this ‘Gigue’ resemble those of the opening movement of Mozart’s D major Piano Sonata (K576). Partly through his friendship with Baron Gottfried van Swieten, Mozart’s enthusiasm for Bach was renewed and both the chromaticism and contrapuntal writing in his later works connect directly to this influence. For a moment, the ‘Gigue’ transported us to Vienna and Mozart’s last years.
Angela Hewitt’s inclination towards Bach was influenced by her cathedral-organist father and her own arrangement of Bach’s chorale prelude ‘Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten’ would have owed everything to him. Its eloquent simplicity was in great contrast to the rather extraordinary harmonic progressions in Herbert Howells’ arrangement which followed of O, Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross. In her programme note, Hewitt suggests that people might assume that Howells had somehow elaborated it, but it is absolutely original. Bach never fails to surprise with his boldness, and this chorale prelude is a case in point.
Yet the boldness and bravura of Hewitt’s final offering, the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, was also pretty breathtaking and, on the home straight, Hewitt indulged her instinct for a bit of theatricality. The passagework was fast and furious, with the elements of fantasy and cadenza extravagantly executed and often liberally pedalled to add to the resonance. In acknowledgement of a rapturous reception, Hewitt’s encore, Wilhelm Kempff’s arrangement of ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’ made for a suitably jubilant ending.