Angela Hewitt, the concert pianist, an Anna Pavlova of the keyboard, is aptly named, in my view. Vasil and I attended her November 27 performance at Stockholm’s Konserthuset and were transported by her interpretations of Claude Debussy.
It was an all French concert, including the French Suites Nos. 5 and 6 of J.S. Bach. The other pieces were the Ballade in F sharp major by Gabriel Fauré and two pieces by Debussy: Pour le piano and L’isle Joyeuse. The audience would not let her off the stage until Ms Hewitt played three encores, all by Debussy, two of which were Clair de lune and Passapied from Suite Bergamasque.
Ms Hewitt has been, in my mind and in the minds of others, associated with her interpretations of J.S. Bach. In fact, I went to the concert on this basis, although Bach’s French Suites are not favorites of mine. Her reputation is understandable in that her published recordings include these titles of Bach recordings:
The Solo Keyboard Works, The Well-Tempered Clavier (4-CD box set), The Keyboard Concertos (2 CDs), Italian Concerto and French Overture, The English Suites, The French Suites, The Goldberg Variations, The Inventions, The Six Partitas, and The Toccatas.
Her other recordings include these composers: Beethoven, Chabrier, Chopin, Couperin, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Rameau, Ravel, and Schumann (Source). Please note: there are no recordings, to date, of Debussy! I predict there will such be soon, and I will be first in line to buy them.
I have seen some reviewers offer her the mantle of the late Glenn Gould in her interpretations of Bach’s pieces, but this is unfair to both artists. Each has her and his own genius and manner of interpretation and presentation. Comparisons are odious.
And now to Angela Hewitt’s interpretation and presentation.
The German polymath, Wolfgang von Goethe, saw great artists as possessed by daemons and that ordinary men must stand in reverence to them. (Source). I have long stood in reverence to J.S. Bach, but had not developed a similar feeling for Debussy until I experienced this concert. And not only do I now stand in reverence to Bach and Debussy (among others), but also to Angela Hewitt.
From our position in the second balcony, Angela Hewitt’s arms and hands seemed to float like swans over the keyboard, eliciting the full spectrum of sound and harmony through gentle, yet powerful, almost magical, encouragement. She addressed the keyboard within scant seconds of her sitting down and immediately we were carried to the place where I imagine the composer intended.
The Bach was as Bach should be, perfectly but not mechanically executed. Angela Hewitt and Bach are comfortable friends. The Fauré piece was unfamiliar to me, and pleasant, but I will not seek it out again. Nonetheless, the same familiarity and confidence between the composer and artist was there, as were the artist and piano comfortable with each other.
But the Debussy! What an explosion of sound, what cascading rapids of harmonies, abrupt changes in volume, and great distances between the frequencies of notes, thrilling trills and leaping arpeggios. I have to say that the Bach we had just heard seemed quite pale in comparison.
The lovely arms and hands of Angela Hewitt flew over the keyboard, magically eliciting, as in the previous pieces, now a cathedral of sound, yet seemingly effortlessly.
In contrast, Debussy’s quiet Claire de lune, although played and listened to overmuch during my youth, was now a Japanese brush painting.
I have poor hearing which is corrected reasonably well by advanced hearing aids. I had no trouble hearing every note clearly and distinctly, a positive comment not only about the pianist but also about the hall we were in. This should not be surprising (or, rather, should be expected) since it is here that the annual Nobel Prize concert occurs.
I will discipline myself not to listen to any more Debussy until I have a recording of Angela Hewitt at the piano.