Recital in Boston

2009-02-25 / The Boston Musical Intelligencer / Brian Jones

Angela Hewitt: A Real Discovery

In a world of piano playing where velocity and force prevail, it is beyond pleasure to discover a player with old-fashioned musical values: one who considers the instrument a vehicle for poetry, not an instrument of sheer virtuosic display. With Angela Hewitt at the keys, it is easy to focus on the music and, indeed, on life itself.

The concert was held at Jordan Hall on February 22, part of the Celebrity Series’s Aaron Richmond Recitals. Opening with Bach, Hewitt brought a probing, reflective sense to the English Suite in D minor. One heard gracious footwork in Bach’s eloquent dances, a limpid touch in the reflective slower movements (neither rushed nor tarried), and compelling energy in the final gigue. Ms. Hewitt has an uncanny ability to let the music soar while getting out of its way. Technical mistakes seem beyond possibility. Continuing with the Beethoven Sonata in F Major, op. 10, she soared from the very first phrase. This is Beethoven playing which tells out the architecture while making the melodic content luminescent. It passed almost too quickly; is this sonata really that short? One wished for another…

After the intermission, a lighter side was displayed through two Fauré Valse-caprices, op. 30 and op. 38, music that confirms Copland’s assertion of Fauré as the French Brahms. The spirit of Chopin clearly hovers over these works, yet put through the filter of Fauré’s own uniquely syncopated lexicon. Given the brilliance and depth with which Ms. Hewitt dispensed these substantial, challenging works, it is surprising they are not heard more often.

Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, the composer’s self-proclaimed adoption of neo-classical form, puts technical challenge toward simplicity of effect. Despite the variety in mood among the six movements, Ms. Hewitt framed the overall arch of the work in an especially unifying manner, and with such lavish coloring as to challenge Ravel’s own orchestration: would it really have been more satisfying?

After the closing Toccata brought a roar of audience approval, Ms. Hewitt offered two encores: Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess, played with a rare combination of reflection and conviction, and a pellucid account of Bach’s well-known Prelude in C from the Well-Tempered Clavier. We can only hope that Boston will become a frequent stop on this wonderful artist’s schedule.

Brian E. Jones was music director and organist at Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, from 1984-2004, He has held interim positions locally at Old South Church and Memorial Church at Harvard and also was director of the Dedham Choral Society for many years.