There’s no doubt about it, Angela Hewitt is a woman in her prime, and we, her audiences, are the fortunate beneficiaries of her decades of experience. Her latest programme for Musica Viva is not just beautifully constructed, it allows the Canadian virtuoso to demonstrate her depth of knowledge and her affinity for a range of composers from her great passion, JS Bach, through to French colourists like Ravel and Chabrier.
The first half was pure Bach, the First and Fourth Partitas, being played here as part of Hewitt’s ‘Bach Odyssey’, a four-year commitment to revisit the complete keyboard works of the composer with whom for many she’s most closely associated. Hewitt’s superpower, if you like, is her ability to be both serious-minded and playful all at once, a skill that renders Bach’s optimistic First Partita a complete delight. From the thoughtful, yet entertaining Praeludium, through the gay Allemande to the bounding tantivies of the galloping Corrente her technique never falters. Playing with a poised elegance, Hewitt is mistress of the trill, embracing Bach’s up to date (for the time) Frenchiness. Beneath her fingers, the Sarabande becomes a concentrated meditation and the Menuets a graceful ramble before dispatching the cheeky hand-crossings of the Gigue with evident relish.
Bach’s Fourth Partita is a more serious-minded work, demanding a concentrated blend of logical thought and panache. Hewitt embraced the D Major grandeur of the French Ouverture, her every fibre a flourish, clearly enjoying the long runs up and down in the left hand. The ruminative Allemande was followed by the relief valve of the buoyant Courante and the courtly Aria. But it was the Sarabande where Hewitt showed her colours, commanding time to stand still with heart-stopping suspensions as the audience held its collective breath. Playing of such profundity and authority was worth the ticket price alone.
The sun had definitely got its hat on for the second half, a whistle stop tour of Spain and France. Five major key sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti allowed Hewitt to show her sheer dexterity from the military manoeuvres of the D Major Kk491 to the puppyish rompings of Kk492. At the heart of her selection was the old Horowitz favourite, the E major Kk380. In Hewitt’s hands it stands revealed as an exquisite nocturnal tone poem, all nights in the gardens of Spain. Hewitt’s Scarlatti mixes the chic of her Couperin with the wit of her Chabrier, and nowhere more so than in the quicksilver games of the concluding A Major Kk24.
Ravel’s relatively early Sonatine is perhaps the closest he came to Debussy, a work imbued with a wistful nostalgia. It is truly beautiful music, here played truly beautifully thanks to Hewitt’s acute ear for sonics and her captivating dynamic sensitivity. Listening to the forward-looking sound world of the Bourée Fantasque, it seems amazing that more pianists don’t play Chabrier. Hewitt has championed him for years, and the work’s Grainger-like eccentricities were duly bound into a cohesive whole, its various fiendish hurdles jumped with deceptive ease.
This was one of those perfect concerts, everything coming together in a programme where each work shines a light on the next, and played by a pianist at the very pinnacle of her powers. If you think you’ve heard Debussy’s Clair de Lune one too many times, try Hewitt’s sublime encore – like so much that she touches, it comes up fresh as a daisy. Do try and catch her on tour.
Angela Hewitt is on tour with Musica Viva across Australia until May 27