Recital in Perth, Scotland

2011-03-05 / The Herald / Michael Tumelty

Angela Hewitt, Perth Concert Hall

THERE was an extraordinary moment, just a nano-second, at the end of Angela Hewitt’s monumental recital in Perth on Wednesday night.

Typically, when she finishes playing, her long arms bound off the piano, way above her head, and, as she rises to her feet and faces her audience, the great Canadian pianist’s face is already bathed in that huge, immensely winning smile.

As she finished the colossal fugue that ends Brahms’s Handel Variations, she got to her feet, turned to receive the rapturous applause and looked completely drawn and drained. It vanished instantly, but I reckon it was a telling indication of the sheer physical, intellectual and emotional strength required to master this beast of a piece.

The Brahms is so deceptive. When it starts it sounds pert, jaunty and light; but it goes on a journey to darkly Romantic terrain, becoming at one point very private. Ultimately, in that awful, mind-bending and muscle-straining fugue, it becomes a ruthless Goliath. Not until this performance had I realised just what a mental bone-crusher it is.

Hewitt’s recovery was awe-inspiring. She came on with encores and hurled herself into a spectacular transcription by Liszt of Schumann’s song, Widmung, followed by the most sane and pure Bach playing in the universe with the Sarabande from the Fifth French Suite.

What wit, humour and mischief she brought from Beethoven’s Eroica Variations in the first half, as though she was improvising.

Otherwise, a night of suites and variations was characterised by classic displays of Hewitt sophistication and elegance in Bach’s First Partita and Handel’s rather dark F minor Suite.