Recital in Grand Rapids

2007-04-20 / Grand Rapids Press / Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk

Hewitt’s inspired Bach worthy of her world tour

The mind reels.

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach, much admired and occasionally imitated by those other immortals of classical music, Mozart and Beethoven, is one of the supreme achievements of Western Civilization.

Yet pianist Angela Hewitt tosses it off like there’s nothing to it.

The Canadian pianist, one of the finest living interpreters of Bach on the piano, capped the 2007 Grand Rapids Bach Festival on Thursday evening in Calvin College’s Fine Arts Center with a program of music from the composer’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II.

It was an amazing performance, one that uplifted, and perhaps even exhausted, an attentive listener with its scope and intensity.

In the past, Hewitt has been guest soloist with the Grand Rapids Symphony. Three years ago, she played Bach’s Goldberg Variations” at Grand Valley State University as part of the 2004 Gilmore Keyboard Festival.

Thursday’s performance, which also was part of the Calvin College Artist Series, tops all of the above.

Bach’s set of 48 preludes and fugues, spanning all of the major and minor keys, collected into the two books we know today by the Clavier title, represents some of the composer’s finest work.

Generations of young pianists have learned the Prelude in C Major, from Book I, and more advanced students have tied their fingers in knots struggling with the Fugue in C Minor, from Book II.

Hewitt breezed through the latter as easily as if it were the former in her solo performance of 12 of the preludes and fugues from Bach’s second book.

Her lyrical touch and her clarity of line — all in the hands, with just a bit of pedal — reigned supreme through the free-flowing preludes and orderly fugues in three and four voices, performed entirely from memory.

Most notably of all, Hewitt’s expressive piano playing — quicksilver ornaments, flowing melodic lines, strong fortes from the wrists — colored every one of the selections.

Bach, of course, never heard a modern concert grand piano. He could no more have imagined the expressive possibilities of the instrument than he could have imagined the particulars of a modern jetliner.

One wonders what Bach would have made of Hewitt’s performance, which went well beyond the printed page.

Hewitt’s program ended with Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Suite in A minor, a seven-movement piece that was lighter in complexity though not in performance quality. Hewitt played a stately allemande, a tempestuous sarabande, a playful Les Trois Mains and a gavotte that began slow and somber and ended big and bold.

Hewitt was in town on Wednesday to lead a master class at Calvin College with young pianists from several area colleges. It was one of many events in the nine-day, biennially presented Grand Rapids Bach Festival.

As for the Well-Tempered Clavier, Hewitt is just getting started with the two books. Beginning in August, she’ll spend the better part of a year traveling the globe and playing all 48 pieces as part of her Bach World Tour.

Once again, the mind reels.”