Finally after years of playing for Rome University Angela Hewitt made her much awaited debut at S.Cecilia.
It was the minutes of aching silence that greeted her magical performance of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations that decreed her long overdue triumph.
Almost two hours of playing to a very full hall with the usually reticent Romans braving COVID restrictions and the coldest weather I can remember in forty years in the eternal city.
A magnificent Fazioli concert grand just waiting for the slender figure of Angela in a flaming red dress to bring it alive with crystal clear sounds of such delicacy and rhythmic drive that the audience sat spellbound through a difficult programme of Couperin,Scarlatti Bach and even d’Albert.
An eclectic programme of rarely heard works in Rome that kept the audience breathless and even coughless in admiration for the simple supreme musicianship of this remarkable performer or should I say re-creator.
Having played three Bach concerti in Aquila last night she faced the microphones of a live radio broadcast tonight with the joie de vivre and freshness of someone discovering the music for the first time and having such fun too.
It was just this exhilaration that was shared with a cheering audience wanting this moment of joy to last just a while longer.
Angela playing in the Sala Sinopoli recital hall in the magnificent complex designed by Renzo Piano.Three magnificent halls under three roofs that look like three great mushrooms amongst the greenery that used to be the abandoned Olympic Village in the Parioli region of Rome.
This was Angela’s debut at S.Cecilia,the historic institution that goes back hundreds of years ,but it was far from being the first time she had played in Rome.She has been a regular visitor in the last ten years at the University series in their Aula Magna with the historic frescos of Manzu.She made her debut in Rome though in the 80’s at the Ghione theatre promoted by the Canadian Cultural Embassy under the watchful eye of Elena Solari.It was the same period that Janina Fialkowska,her colleague and great friend,also was promoted in the Ghione theatre by the Canadian government as top prize winner in the first Artur Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv.Angela too had recently been the winner of what is generally known as the one and only Glenn Gould Bach Competition in Toronto in 1985.Gould was famously anti competitions so the actual title was the Toronto Bach Piano Competition dedicated to Glenn Gould.There was an exhibition in Rome too about the eccentric Canadian musical genius .In that period there were very few recital halls where artists could play in Rome and the Ghione theatre filled that gap in the 80’s and 90’s ( becoming like the Wigmore Hall in London today) until the magnificent concert halls of Renzo Piano were opened in the early 2000’s.Angela played too at the Teatro Olimpico-the Goldberg Variations in the 80’s on a Sunday morning.Her father the distinguished Canadian organist and her mother came over especially.Angela since then has made many rapturously received recordings for Hyperion and has a worldwide career.She also lives in Italy -when she is not touring the world- and holds her annual festival in Trasimeno.Often in the big cities if you are invited by one important organisation you are never invited to another -politics ugh! It was nice to see that Angela’s worldwide reputation had overcome local politics and judging from the triumph last night so were the public that gave her a standing ovation!
The French keyboard music of the early 18th century typically followed a general form in which suites of ten or more traditional dance movements are arranged in a fairly predictable order. The harpsichord pieces of Francois Couperin, however, are often unique, and alter this traditional form in a variety of ways. Rather than sets of dance movements these works are character pieces with evocative and picturesque titles.They paint captivating portraits of his time, depicting friends, enemies, court personalities and famous actors/actresses in veiled or enigmatic ways. Still other works illustrate natural phenomena, historical events and philosophical ideas, with the result being that works like Pièces de clavecin take on the character of a personal diary or sketchbook.
Couperin says in the preface to the Premier Livre, “Ceci n’est pas une Suite, encore qu’il y ait bien les dances obligatoires. Vous vouliez del’ordre? Voici un Ordre… On l’appellerait Désordre tout aussi bien.” (“This is not a suite, although it includes the obligatory dances. Would you like an order? Here is an Order … But it could be also called a Disorder.”)
Angela brought just this sense of character and sense of freedom with her crystal clear ornamentation that brought these seven miniature tone poems vividly to life.From the very delicate ravishing ornaments of the Verneuille and the lively rhythm of the Verneuillete.The sad song of the Soeur Monique with its great contrasts and very sensitive sounds and its final whispered echo.Great rhythmic energy of Le Turbulent was followed by the almost too serious L’Attendrissante before the magic music box of Le Tic -Toc-Choc of such brilliance.Ending with the strident energy of Le Gaillard -Boiteux.
Her Bach playing has been celebrated worldwide and is a true celebration of the song and the dance not the monumental rock that we have respected from many great interpreters of the past.This was a more human Bach played with great respect and scholarship but with sounds and colours that are more of the people than the Gods.
The four prelude and fugues from Book 2 flowed so naturally from her hands.The mellifluous beauty and clarity of F sharp major BWV 882 and the minor too of great beauty with such a delicate fugue that built up to a final climax .There was jeux perlé of seemless sounds in the G major BWV 884 contrasting with the majesty and rhythmic urgency of its minor partner BWV 885.
Domenico Scarlatti was born 1685 in the Kingdom of Naples,belonging to the Spanish Crown,the same year as Bach and Handel He was the sixth of ten children of the composer and teacher Alessandro Scarlatti.
He died in Madrid in 1757 at the age of 71 and was buried at a convent there, but his grave no longer exists.He wrote 555 keyboard sonatas which are single movements and are mostly for harpsichord or the earliest pianos. (There are four for organ, and a few for small instrumental group). Angela chose three of contrasting character and colour.D major K 430 had the elegance and grace of the dance with great rhythmic energy whereas the B minor K.87 was played with a beautiful legato allowed to sing so expressively.The final G major K 427 bubbled over with a sparkling jeux perlé interrupted by strident chords .
Bach’s six English suites are thought to be the earliest set that Bach composed aside from several miscellaneous suites written when he was much younger. Bach’s English Suites display less affinity with Baroque English keyboard style than do the French Suites to French Baroque keyboard style. It has also been suggested that the name is a tribute to Charles Dieupart whose fame was greatest in England, and on whose Six Suittes de clavessin Bach’s English Suites were in part based.The English Suites strongly resemble those of Bach’s French Suites and Partitas, particularly in the sequential dance-movement structural organization and treatment of ornamentation.There was such clarity of voices in the opening Prélude and a mellifluous flow of sounds in the Allemande and Courante.But it was the sublime beauty and simplicity of the Sarabande that will linger longest in the memory for its heartfelt outpouring of deep meaning.There was charm in the two Menuets and a joyously buoyant Gigue that brought this rarely heard work to a triumphant conclusion.
Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV 582 is an organ work here transcribed by a pupil of Liszt: Eugene d Albert .Presumably composed early in Bach’s career, it is one of his most important and well-known works, and an important influence on 19th and 20th century passacaglias .Schumann described the variations of the passacaglia as “intertwined so ingeniously that one can never cease to be amazed.”Angela gave a performance of unexpected delicacy but gradually building to a tumultuous climax grandeur and transcendental difficulty as one would expect from the great Glaswegian virtuoso from the school of Franz Liszt
Two encores from a very enthusiastic public of a Bach organ prelude and the sublime aria from the Goldberg variations.Let’s just hope that we will get to hear the whole of the variations on her next visit to Rome.