Recital in the Orkney Festival

2003-06-23 / The Herald / Michael Tumelty

Setting the perfect tone

EVEN by its own standards, the annual St Magnus Festival in Orkney set a blistering pace in an opening weekend that taxed the most experienced, case-hardened festivalite. On Saturday, the first full day of the festival, seven events were staged, showcasing the arts across the spectrum, from traditional music to symphonic and choral music, with poetry, drama, instrumental recital, and chamber music all thrown in for good measure. Though geography and overlapping events precluded attendance at all of them, with careful planning and fast travelling it was possible to get to five of the shows in Kirkwall and Stromness; and what a day it amounted to.

At the heart of the day, which included a strong community presence in the performances of the Orkney Traditional Music Project and a staging of Shakespeare’s comedy, As You Like It (of both of which more in this Wednesday’s feature from the festival), lay an extraordinary concert by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, whose winning smile and personality have radiated a glow through the festival, and whose musicianship stopped hearts at her recital in Stromness on Saturday afternoon. That she is one of the greatest living performers of Bach is well-known, and was exemplified in her pristine, pellucid playing of the C Minor Toccata and the Italian Concerto, as well as in her exhilarating performance of Couperin’s Sixth Suite, which redefined the concept of digital dexterity. However, she then moved from the baroque into the Romantic period, devoting the second half exclusively to the music of Chopin, and, in six Nocturnes and a Scherzo, produced playing of such soulful depth and exquisitely painful poise that time appeared to stop. Seldom have I heard playing of such rich and complex maturity, musicianship which at once captured the real ache and yearning of this music, coupled with an intellectual control that removed any superficial whiff of perfume from the sound and projected it with a revelatory clarity of line.
Frankly, every inch of space could be dedicated to writing about the playing of this amazing musician, but other things clamour for attention, not least the playing of the BBC Philharmonic…..