sat 08/08/2020

Angela Hewitt, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Angela Hewitt, Wigmore Hall

Angela Hewitt, Wigmore Hall

Bach to the future: a contemporary take on the music of J S Bach

In an age where the traditionally polarised roles of academic and performer are moving ever closer, Hewitt is still queen. Programming, the backroom skill of any concert, becomes under her fingers a charged process, revelling in the dialogue and debate of juxtaposition. Here, curating her new commissions with care, she presented a programme both challenging and novel while escaping the strip-lit earnestness of the seminar room.

We opened with Bach himself. The English Suite No 4 in F is arguably the sunniest of this good-natured set, and its opening Prelude offered a charming welcome and an introduction to the sturdy tone of the contemporary Faziolini piano. Generously supporting Hewitt’s bass-driven Prelude, it was shown perhaps to best advantage in the unbuttoned, almost arioso-like Sarabande. Hewitt’s exploratory approach filled out this movement with deliciously unfussy motion, capturing the loosely swung nature of the dance. The fanfare exchanges of the Gigue, animated with all the nervous precision rejected in the Sarabande, brought us to a conclusion of controlled frenzy.

Robin Holloway’s Partitina on the opening notes of J S Bach’s "Goldberg" bass lounged into action with a rakish series of added-note chords. It was as if Bach, exiled from the marital home after a furious domestic with Anna Magdalena, had sought solace at the piano of a Leipzig nightclub, jamming his blues away. Cheeky and deliciously bluesy, with a beguiling interlude that sounded like a Victorian parlour song, this shortened version of Holloway’s original is a witty homage to the master, and one Hewitt appeared to relish.

Wit was replaced by deconstructed lyricism in Yehudi Wyner’s Fantasia on BACH. Insistently returning to its theme, melodic gestures struggled to be fulfilled, repeating and recurring with increasingly fretful urgency. Less successful was Brett Dean’s Prelude and Chorale, whose arpeggio-driven perpetuum mobile of a Prelude (rendered with attack only equalled through the evening by the thunderous conclusion to Bach’s Toccata in C minor) gave way with neither logic nor explanation to a straight transcription of the lovely “Gute nacht” from Bach’s motet Jesu, Meine Freude.

Outside the confines of the official programme there was a delightful sense of off-duty excess, culminating in a final cadence and climactic ritenuto worthy of Classic FM

Anchoring the programme to its source and framing the new compositions were Bach’s Three-part Inventions BWV787-795 and his mighty Toccata in C Minor. The inventions, “wherein lovers of the clavier, but especially those desirous of learning, are shown a clear way”, were designed as tools for the student and written for Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann. Impossibly fluid in their organic succession of phrases, Hewitt’s controlled articulation was nowhere more evident. Set against the orchestral colours of the English Suite (and later the more sonorous colours of Hewitt’s own beautiful chorale transcriptions from the Orgelbüchlein), this specifically pianistic writing achieved its own sheen, animated by Hewitt’s intelligent balance of textures.

Matched in their delicacy by the thundering heft of the C minor Toccata, the evening was rounded off by a transcription (Hewitt’s own, I assume) of Bach’s Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. Outside the confines of the official programme there was a delightful sense of off-duty excess, culminating in a final cadence and climactic ritenuto worthy of Classic FM.

The chance to hear Hewitt in contemporary repertoire should be appeal enough, but if anyone needs further attractions to lure them to the second part of Bach Book at the Wigmore Hall next week then look no further than the programme. With works from Elena Kats-Chernin, Dominic Muldowney and Kurt Schwertsik, the unusual angles of approach and odd musical juxtapositions promise to provide dialogue every bit the architectural equal of Bach’s own counterpoint.

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