Well, here we are, a new year and a new experience. Until this evening I had never been to a piano recital. What an eye, and ear-opener!
I have obviously heard pianists in action, you only have to look at my previous reviews to see that. Everything from rock’n’roll, through singer/songwriters to symphonies, but this is the first time I have walked into a venue to be presented with a totally bare stage except for the most magnificent Steinway piano with a mirror-like finish. I can appreciate this because my great uncle (my grandmother’s brother who she brought up when their parents died) was a French polisher and would arrive home at night on his bike with a piano part strapped to his back. After dinner he got his trusty cloth pad out and described endless figure of eight motions over the wood occasionally patting the pad on his other palm and applying some magic fluid to it. He would keep this up until bedtime when he propped the piece against the wall before turning in, making it clear that his wrath would be unleashed should he find even the hint of a fingerprint on it in the morning.
I can imagine Ms Hewitt spending as much time and dedication on producing the sound worthy of the instrument which she was playing. I am also sure that this mindset was shared by the constructor and tuner of the piano. The two differences between Angela Hewitt and my uncle are; he stuck rigidly to a process to produce his end product, whereas she was able to inject her personality into her playing; and she has a sense of humour!
Angela Hewitt is a Canadian pianist and the foremost interpreter of the works of J. S. Bach. Since 2008 she has been touring the world performing his compositions and making recordings of them, as well as those of the harpsichord master François Couperin.
The proceedings began with the artist giving us a comprehensive talk on what we were about to hear, covering the history of the music, the part of the biography of the composers in relation to their influences and relationships pertinent to the writing of the pieces in the programme. She did this with a wit and charm later to manifest itself in the playing. I especially liked the story about Bach composing a gigue (jig) for a man with a wooden leg.
The theme of the programme was Baroque and the composers were Couperin, J. S. Bach and Scarlatti. I have to say that I was not familiar with any of the pieces, this was definitely a performance more for the aficionado although I did find them accessible and even mesmerising at times. The thing which amazed me was the way in which she could fill the room with sound one minute, and the next produce playing of pure intimacy.
I was fortunate to have a seat in the centre of the front row meaning that I could see every hand movement and gesture without being distracted by people in front fidgeting or checking their mobile phones, which I am sure didn’t happen.
The thing which separates the great performer from the good one is the involvement in the work and Angela Hewitt was living every second of it. She isn’t one of those flamboyant musicians who toss their hair about as though they were in the mosh pit at Leeds Festival but her subtle movements and facial expressions conveyed that she was totally immersed. This was illustrated in the short break between two pieces when someone in the audience dropped a plastic drinks container just as she was about to strike the first note. Like a professional golfer who is distracted by a camera shutter as they are about to putt to win the Open Championship, she paused, placed her hands back onto her lap and went through her mental process of getting back in ‘the zone’. Unlike the golfer she refrained from shouting out a string of expletives at the miscreant.
Although somewhat of a challenge, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and, should you be interested in Baroque, and Bach especially, I would recommend you keeping your eyes open for any future performances by Ms Hewitt in the area. I am sure that my fellow audience members would agree as the room was packed and she was given such an ovation that we were treated to an encore.
I have included a programme below so that you can see the range of works performed.
Couperin: Dix-huitième Ordre
Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou Les Maillotins
J.S. Bach: Four Preludes and Fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II
No. 13 in F sharp major, BWV 882
No. 14 in F sharp minor, BWV 883
No. 15 in G major, BWV 884
No. 16 in G minor, BWV 885
Sonata in D major, Kk 430
Sonata in B minor, Kk 87
Sonata in G major, Kk 427
J.S. Bach: English Suite No. 4 in F major, BWV 809
Menuet I & II
J.S.Bach (arr. d’Albert): Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582
Feature image provided by Opera North. All other photographs by Stan Graham
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