Recital in Cleveland

2009-09-24 / The Plain Dealer / Donald Rosenberg

Pianist shares her gift with eloquent nuance

Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt opened the 60th season of the Cleveland Chamber Music Society with a recital of works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Beethoven.
The world has a fair share of gifted pianists who make spectacles of themselves — Lang Lang is one — and others who care about nothing but the music. Angela Hewitt is an artist who draws attention only to the ideas at her fingertips.

The Canadian pianist’s devotion to the inner world of the music she plays was bountifully evident during her recital Tuesday at Fairmount Temple Auditorium in Beachwood to open the Cleveland Chamber Music Society’s 60th season. Hewitt played works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Beethoven as if she were investigating each score anew.

The performances were intimate and even compact, full of keenly observed expressive details and tonal beauty. The pianist managed to keep listeners absorbed despite the auditorium’s bone-dry acoustics.
Hewitt has been labeled a Bach specialist, a reputation she certainly deserves. But in Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat major, she avoided any hint of mechanical stateliness. Tempos were elastic and lines woven seamlessly together, almost with improvisational abandon. The gentle leaps in the final Gigue were delightful cross-hand feats that ended with an exuberant upward flourish toward the audience.

Hewitt spent the rest of her program in the 19th century, starting with two works by Mendelssohn, whose bicentennial is being celebrated this year. To the Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in E minor, Op. 35, No. 1, the pianist brought sweeping grandeur and lyrical subtlety, as well as patient etching of the fugue, which travels from austerity and passion to wistful serenity.

Mendelssohn’s Variations serieuses, Op. 54, received an account in which each variation unfolded as a distinctive, though connected, event. Hewitt held the moment of melancholy to a heartbreaking hush, and the acrobatic passages arrived in context, minus any temptation for showy display.

The emotional intensity built into Schumann’s Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, sometimes induces pianists to overdo dramatic extremes. Hewitt painted the narratives in tight frames, phrasing with generous flexibility while maintaining utmost clarity of structure and texture. In her fine deployment of hands and pedal, the slow movement was a mesmerizing reverie.

She was similarly magnetic in Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, a work of mercurial persuasion in which tragedy, poetry and silence rub riveting shoulders. The music’s Romantic passions can lead to overheated melodrama, which doesn’t course this pianist’s refined and observant artistic veins.

Instead, Hewitt’s meticulous attention to nuances and dynamic contrasts reaped vibrant rewards, especially in the suspenseful storms of the finale. Here was Beethoven boldly set forth from a superlative mind and fresh set of ears.