Angela Hewitt Plays…

Australia and Canada are similar countries in obvious ways, and comparisons  between them throw up interestingly different strengths. At a guess, Canada has a deeper intellectual life, the countries are about equal in literature, Australia excels at sport (for whatever that is worth), and it may be ahead in the level of its composers. But Canada surely reigns supreme in the performance of serious music. Among pianists there has been the massive, tormented figure of Glenn Gould, who is said to have practised mentally rather than at the keyboard. But now Angela Hewitt has emerged, and her playing fills me with delight.

On two occasions now I’ve been able to hear her, and marvel at what she does. Rather than wrestling with the piano and forcing it to bend to her will, she gives the impression of caressing the instrument in a way that allows the intentions of the composer to become transparent. The fluidity of her hands and the utter naturalness of her gestures at the keyboard draw attention not to herself but the composers whose servant she is. And her strengths live on in recording; her version of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (Hyperion) is a favourite at home.

The more recent concert included music by four composers. Fittingly, Ravel and Chabrier brought up the rear. But after proceedings began with two of Bach’s Partitas we moved on to a selection of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, and I wonder about the wisdom of this. The sequence could be defended on grounds of chronology, but given that the birth dates of the two composers are less than a year apart this consideration hardly seems relevant. It is more to the point that, despite the interest of his work and the real pleasure it brings, Scarlatti was no Bach, and listening to the composers in this order is like drinking white wine after red, a procedure that surely disadvantages what the second has to offer. Walking away from a glorious concert I could not banish this thought from my mind.




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