The Sublime Simplicity of Angela Hewitt

The sublime simplicity of Angela Hewitt.
A crystal clear purity where every voice was allowed to be heard and shaped with such subtle beauty and shading.

The tower of the Basilica of S.Pietro as seen from afar
It was only fitting that it should have resounded in one of the most beautiful of churches in central Italy. Caravaggio,Tintoretto,Sassoferrato ,Reni and many other masterpieces only added to the sheer joy that Angela was sharing with us in the name of the Red Cross.
The gradual crescendo in ‘Jesu Joy of Man`s Desiring’ made the whispered final phrase even more poignant.
The minutes of total silence followed by a spontaneous standing ovation made for the greatest Christmas present that one could ever desire indeed.
In the Basilica of San Pietro in Perugia that Karajan considered had the finest of acoustics.
How could I ever forget as a student in Florence in 1972 Martha Argerich opening what was to be one of her last solo recitals with such an ecstatic performance of the Bach C minor Toccata followed by the grandest of Liszt sonatas.
But it was the Toccata today in hands of Angela Hewitt that will remain with me until my dying day.

The magnificengt interior of the Basilica di S.Pietro in Perugia
After the opening speeches in perfect Italian replying to her hostess and thanking all the people that had flocked with tangible effect to support the Red Cross as she herself had done with such obvious joy.
It was this joy of sharing her music with us that was so evident to all present on this very cold winter`s evening.
It was that same joy that William Pleeth would describe of the young Jaqueline Du Pre bouncing down the corridor in a competition when she was not yet the renowned cellist she was to become.
They thought she must have played well.
“No” she exclaimed”I have not played yet but it fills me with joy the thought that it will be my turn soon.”

The very poignant story of my wife’s last performance and the fact of her wedding ring being found on the pavement outside our theatre the day after that tragic last performance of Hecuba.The whole of Florence was talking about this beautiful true story,that I had not seen.It was published two weeks later when I had gone to Florence to hear Angela playing at La Pergola .I remember what fun we had in the interval remembering our adored Sidney Harrison and much to everyone’s astonishment intoning the words to Bach’s fugues that his teacher Ebener Prout had set to words.
It was just this joy that poured from the hands of Angela the moment she sat down at her adored Fazioli concert grand.(4 pedals Angela?Yes Fazioli.sometimes have four and I sometimes use the fourth too……a sign of a true love affaire indeed!)
After the opening flourish of the C minor Toccata, Bach immediately follows with an Adagio played with such sublime stillness and profundity that an unforgettable atmosphere was created.
A bond that drew us all together in a spiritual rite that was indeed a coming together where words are just not enough.
I had come early to see this famous Basilica.

Angela happily posing before the recital
Angela too had arrived early and found me lighting a candle for my wife whom she had known well.
“So Ileana will be with us too tonight” I told her as she happily posed for a photo for her old student friend.
In fact it was.Angela who was the first to telephone me 14 years ago,when she read in the Italian press of Ileana being struck down so unexpectedly on stage in Rome whilst playing the terrifying Hecuba.
It was in this poignant stillness that I knew that she too was thinking of her mother for whom she had given a memorial concert a few years back in Toronto Cathedral where her father had been organist for many years.
Parents I had met years ago when they accompanied the winner of the one and only Glenn Gould competition to Rome to make her debut in our theatre in the shadow of that other St.Peters – the very centre of Christendom.
After the very poignant Adagio the theme of theToccata was stated very quietly which allowed the comments of the counter melodies to answer one another in a continuous musical conversation rather than the usual battle that takes place in lesser hands.
When the theme came in the left hand it was like an old friend joining in an absorbing musical conversation that bubbled along like water flowing in a sparkling br0ok.
The cadenza type interruption only gave a chance to the counter melodies to gather arms and become even more vociferous on the very gentle restatement of the theme in the alto register.
Ever more intricate this “knotty twine” in Angela’s hands became a joyous burst of energy of such clarity but at the same time with such changes of colours and always with the sumptuous velvety tones of this obviously very new Fazioli.
The bubble finally burst into the Adagio recitativo with a final meandering scale Presto from the top of the keyboard to the very bottom.The last note judged to absolute perfection just added to the nobility of this opening work in one of the most beautifully shaped programmes I have heard for a very long time.
As Angela confided afterwards a very tiring programme that she had only played in Hampstead last november whilst she is still touring the world with the final two programmes of her Bach Odyssey.
A series comprising all the major keyboard works that she had been persuaded to embark on by John Gilhooly of the Wigmore Hall in London.
She will be awarded in 2020 the “ Bach Medal” in Bach’s home city of Leipzig of which she is rightly very proud.
Most other musicians would be happy if they only played all the works of Bach but Angela has also almost completed her recording of the 32 Sonatas of Beethoven.So I was surprised when she told me that she was just about to record also the variations of Beethoven.
I would not be surprised if likeFilippo Gorini recently she brought out the Diabelli followed by the Hammerklavier too!

The four pedals on the Fazioli concert grand
Today we were treated to the six variations op 34 in F followed by the mighty 15 variations and Fugue op 35 “Eroica Variations.“
It was good to see the 32 Variations in C minor too that has been missing from concert programmes for far too long.
Angela laughingly told me Beethoven described them as trash!
It was as though Angela was playing a different instrument such was the luminosity of sound as she shaped the Adagio cantabile so beautifully.A sense of grace and charm for these rarely heard variations that I have only heard in the concert hall years ago from Richter.
There was such extreme delicacy in the first variation as Angela spun a magic web of intricate embellishments.
It contrasted so well with the rhythmic energy of the second and the beautiful legato of the Allegretto third or Beethoven’s almost too serious Tempo di Menuetto of the fourth.
The dotted rhythms of the fifth were very subdued with magic horns leading into the cantabile of the sixth.
Joyous and playful and very reminiscent of the bubbling energy of the early cello sonatas.The simplicity of the return of the theme was transformed with Beethoven’s magical embellishments that in Angela’s sensitive hands seemed to be spread over the keyboard like seemless streams of gold.
The very simple playful ending was rudely interrupted by Beethoven’s call to arms with the ‘Eroica Variations’ that followed on immediately.
The Eroica theme was played so simply that Beethoven’s three note interruption came even more as a suprise.
What fun Angela seemed to be having as she played these variations with a quiet mastery that was quite mesmerising.
The beautiful legato of ‘a due’ and ‘a tre’ was suddenly interrupted with the rhythmic energy of ‘a quattro’.
A bewitching lilt to the first variation was immediately trasformed into the second of swirling virtuosity.
The left hand in the fourth variation was played so smoothly that the almost cheeky comments from the right hand gave it great character before the sublime legato of the fifth.
The same beauty with more intricate crossing of hands that she found in the eighth.This led into the more playful variations with the left hand sforzandi of the ninth and the dizzingly busy tenth.
The almost Mozartian charm she brought to the eleventh contrasted so well with the octaves dashing up and down the keyboard in the question and answer session that followed.
The acciaccaturas of the thirteenth magnificently insistent were a perfect contrast for the minor version of the theme that led into the most profound last variation.The longest of all the variations it was played with a rare understanding of the complex almost Floristan and Eusebius character of Beethoven.Disappearing in a puff of smoke a left hand murmur played so magically and leading the way to the final great fugue.
Here as in Bach the clarity of Angela’s playing was quite astonishing as she played with all the energy and contrasts that the composer demands.
A transcendental control and rhythmic drive that was maintained with an almost military precision until the final explosion of three chords before the momentarily defusing adagio led to the ever mellifluous statement of the theme.
Beethoven’s invention seemingly endless until he decides to draw things to a conclusion with a short question and answer coda and a final slam of the door.
This was indeed a remarkable performance of one of Beethoven’s greatest works for the keyboard.
Angela’s interpretations of the First Partita and the Italian Concerto are well known from her performances worldwide over the past forty years.
There was all the clarity and purity in the Prelude and a mellifluously flowing Allemande of such fexibility with some very subtle phrasing that made this well known work speak so enchantingly.Especially at the ending which seemed as though hearing it for the first time.
A Corrente that bounced along with some very delicate ornamentation.A Sarabande that seemed more flowing than usual but with such a flexible melodic line that allowed for such delicate ornamentation in the ritornelli. A lovely melodic shape to a fast flowing Menuet I and a subdued Menuet II that contrasted so well before the repeat.
There was sheer joy in her crystal clear Gigue of absolute perfection.
A brightly polished jewel indeed.
The Beethoven C minor variations were played with great authority.
Beethoven’s indications were scrupulously observed allowing the first three variations to be shaped so delicately instead of the usual pistol shots in lesser hands.The thirteenth was teasingly thrown off with great elan before the more virtuosistic variations took over.
The wonderful pianissimo cloud created in the left hand made the swirling shapes above it even more exciting.
It led to the delicate phrasing of almost Mozartian contrast and the gradual question and answer crescendo to the final octaves of great power only to be answered by the final two almost tongue in cheek quiet chords.
Interesting the broken chords in the left hand of the Italian Concerto like Beethoven four that we had discussed a while back.
There was a great sense of driving rhythmic energy with some very subtle changes of dynamics.The sublime simplicity of the Andante was faster than most but with such a subtle almost unnoticeable pause before the coda that was absolute magic. The last movement was played at a real Presto with an infectious interplay of voices.
What better choice for a final farewell than ‘Jesu,Joy of Man’s Desiring’ from the Cantata n.147 in the arrangement of another great woman pianist Dame Myra Hess.
A strange coincidence that my old copy from Squires in Ealing is stamped Red Cross Competition.
Angela’s performance tonight for the Red Cross too was absolutely sublime as I had mentioned at the beginning with my first impressions jotted down enthusiastically immediately after the concert.
Greeted by a standing ovation she was happy to share in the joy she had so generously created surrounded by friends and admirers from her adopted home town in the Italy- ‘the museum of the world’- that she adores and  that has enriched her life so much.
We look forward now to her annual summer festival in her home town on Lake Trasimeno


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