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Angela Hewitt: Passionate Bach

We welcome this review from guest contributor Rachel L. Conrad.

Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt gave another fine performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 ("Goldberg Variations") on Thursday evening in the Music Center at Strathmore, a program presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society on its Piano Masters Series. As in her last local performance of the work, at the National Gallery of Art in 2004, Bach's aria and set of thirty variations provided the opportunity for the performer to demonstrate why she is unanimously praised for her interpretations of Bach's keyboard works (see previous thoughts at Ionarts on her performances of the English suites, the concerti, and other composers). In short, the MIDEM Classical Awards 2010 Instrumentalist of the Year displayed the clarity and finesse that audiences have come to expect of her.

It is not merely in the realm of technical mastery that Ms. Hewitt excels. Rather, it is through her deep connection and sensitivity to the musical spirit of the composer (hear her speak about the Goldberg Variations in her WPAS podcast) that she is able to breathe life into a performance of this pianistic tour de force, played without any intermission. Any concern that the delicacy of this piece might be shattered in the grandiose setting of a concert hall was quickly dispelled. From the first utterance of the Aria, one was drawn in by every nuanced whisper, the sense of intimacy heightened by the determined concentration of the performer. Ms. Hewitt’s gestures ranged from a poised elegance as she glided through the most demanding passages, to moments of subtle expressiveness where she leaned in closely to the keyboard, as if a secret were being shared between performer and instrument.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, At Strathmore, a harmonious and deftly done variation on 'Goldberg' (Washington Post, December 5)
A palpable tremor of anticipation wavered in the atmosphere of the hall as the final note of the last variation, held to its dying gasp, capitulated to the mournful refrain of the Aria. The program concluded with a final bow of Ms. Hewitt to the keyboard, a graceful gesture of homage to Bach, followed by a single encore, an arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, ending with warmth what otherwise would have been a bleak December evening.

The remaining WPAS classical concert of the year is this afternoon, a recital by Plamena Mangova (December 5, 2 pm) in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The payoff for daring the Washington roads during the first wintry day will be the chance to hear this promising Bulgarian pianist, who won a prize at the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in 2007, the year that Anna Vinnitskaya took first prize.


Anonymous said...

Ms. Hewitt's encore was Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, a dissapointing choice after the sublime music that preceded. MJV in DC

Scott said...

I enjoyed the encore -- much like Pollini's choice of the easiest Schubert impromptu a few years ago, it illustrated that the best pianists can give you a new perspective on even the (seemingly) simplest of works.