Schumann at Wigmore Hall

2007-06-02 / Daily Telegraph / Geoffrey Norris

Power and finesse

Angela Hewitt
Wigmore Hall

Schumann, for some reason, is generally regarded as bleak box office, but there was not a seat to be had for this recital by Angela Hewitt of the “Kinderszenen” Op 15, the “Humoreske” Op 20 and the F sharp minor Piano Sonata.

Hewitt has earned a richly deserved reputation for her interpretations of Bach and the Baroque, and something of that characteristic clarity illuminated her Schumann. In a work like the Piano Sonata, where the textures can come across as plump, Hewitt found a way of making them lean and well-toned, rather as a sensitive conductor can do in animating Schumann’s sometimes dense scoring in the orchestral works.

In the “Humoreske”, passages of counterpoint were elucidated with the perception and incisiveness of a true Bach specialist, enhanced by the crispness of timbre produced by Hewitt’s favoured Fazioli piano. There was also poetic sensibility, balanced by judicious reasoning and poise. The only jarring note occurred before Hewitt struck a single key: someone’s mobile began a tune from Bizet‘s Carmen, and stopped only when the culprit made an embarrassed exit. Once under way, Hewitt’s shrewd approach to Schumann was apparent in the “Kinderszenen”, those dozen adult reminiscences of childhood. The lyrical line of the famous “Träumerei” was beautifully shaped, romantic in its reverie but without a hint of indulgence. There was playfulness in “Haschemann” (“Catch me”), a drowsy haze to “Kind im Einschlummern” (“Child falling asleep”).

Just as Schumann had imagined himself into the world of a child’s games, plaints, fears and joys, so Hewitt recaptured the images and encapsulated them in miniatures that were finely drawn and tender of feeling.

The F sharp minor Sonata bristled with vitality and proposed a convincing solution to the question raised by Schumann’s direction that the slow movement should be played “without passion but expressively”. Hewitt’s approach gave a tranquil contemplation of the far distance that seemed to conjure up the music’s enigmatic atmosphere.

In the sonata as a whole, urgency, jubilation and introspection were all summoned into play in an interpretation that had both power and finesse.