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Breakthrough and fireworks on the horizon

Dominion-Chalmers United Church
01/14/2015 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 5 in G major, BWV 829
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major, Op. 110
Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas in D minor K. 9, in G major K. 427, in A minor K. 109, & in D major K. 96
Franz Liszt: Années de pèlerinage: deuxième année: Italie: “Sonetto 104 del Petrarca”, “Sonetto 123 del Petrarca” & “Après une lecture de Dante: Fantasia Quasi Sonata”

Angela Hewitt (piano)

A. Hewitt (Courtesy of ChamberFest)

She continues to be best known as one of today’s most respected Bach specialists, yet Angela Hewitt now may be moving, or at least exploring in different directions. Her recital this week for Ottawa ChamberFest’s winter series suggested as much. Few in attendance will disagree that the evening’s high point was the final group of Liszt works from Années de pèlerinage: deuxième année: Italie, particularly the closing Après une lecture de Dante: Fantasia Quasi Sonata. Hewitt’s program notes, as well as her playing tend to dispel the myth that Liszt was inspired to compose this while meditating and luxuriating in the sublime gardens and exotic water stairs of Villa Melzi d’Eril on Lake Como. The so-called “Dante” Sonata, which opens with an evocation of Hell and introduces us to Lucifer himself before it concludes, seems far removed from one of the most exquisitely situated estates in Europe.

Hewitt’s performance bordered on the ferocious and conjured Liszt at his most satanic. Perhaps it was the additional challenge of Dominion-Chalmers woolly acoustics, plus a Fazioli piano on the glassy side and with a weakly projecting upper register, which meant Hewitt didn’t completely conquer these elements until late in the program --- but it was worth the wait. Even in the two Sonettos based on Petrarch, Hewitt summoned an energy and concentration which had eluded her earlier in the program.

Indeed, the opening Bach Partita No. 5 in G major then Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major were decidedly low key in comparison, though there were genuine hints of what Hewitt at her finest can deliver. There was the innocent, poignant and occasionally declamatory Sarabande from the former and in the latter, the sombre progression of G major chords in a slow, hypnotic crescendo where Beethoven take listeners from a reprise of the earlier Adagio to the final fugue which, again, is another (this time, much more elaborate) graded, continuing crescendo until the Sonata’s rich closing arpeggios and chords.

The group of Scarlatti Sonatas which commenced the evening’s second half enabled a felicitous segue to the Lisztian fireworks, now on the horizon. It was no surprise that Hewitt is gearing up to record a Scarlatti CD this February. The four she played in Ottawa revealed a genuine sense of discovery, even for an artist long expert in the realm of Baroque music. While only a relatively small number of Scarlatti’s Sonatas are performed with significant frequency (even after the boost from recordings and live performances by Vladimir Horowitz during the 1960s), there are more than five hundred of them, as Hewitt noted during a brief address before the concert’s second half. The Sonata in D minor is a familiar one, notable for its proliferation of single then double trills (which Beethoven and Chopin recycled in later works), and Hewitt brought a spontaneous, overtly romantic twist to this. She returned to virtuoso mode for the Sonata in G major, which she’d alerted us is to be played “as fast as possible”. The Sonata in A minor was the least familiar, and a true gem under Hewitt’s command with its plaintiff, aching melody possibly evoking a wistful banshee. The Sonata in D major is another fast moving show-stopper, again with exotic trills at frequent turns. Hewitt’s reading may have occasionally lacked delineation but the overall energy was there in spades, and the coming CD promises to be a breakthrough as well as another major success for this artist.

It was, however, the closing Liszt group which brought the entire audience, including patrons, board members and reviewers, to their feet. Angela Hewitt is a native of Ottawa and gave her first public performance here more than fifty years ago at the age of four. Today she is a major performer on the worldwide stage. This week’s recital was a thrilling reminder that she is continuing to grow and explore as an artist and an intellectual, and there is still much to anticipate from her in future years.

Charles Pope Jr.



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