Thursday, August 5, 2010

Angela Hewitt Plays Handel & Haydn



Regular readers will know that I don’t like Bach or Handel on the piano, with very few exceptions. Glenn Gould is one and Angela Hewitt the other main exception. She performs their music with such lightness of touch that she might almost be playing a harpsichord or fortepiano, yet without any suggestion that she is imitating what might be produced by a player of either of those instruments. I have sometimes wondered why she doesn’t play the harpsichord but it’s really a fatuous question; these are thoroughly pianistic performances.

As for Angel Hewitt’s playing here, I can’t put it better than the Hyperion website, referring to her ‘clarity of line, singing tone ... instinctive musicality ... [and] urbane elegance’.

George Frideric HandelThe opening Chaconne and the Suite No.2 in F which follows have long been components of Angela Hewitt’s repertoire; she writes of having studied (and memorised) the Suite at the age of fifteen and the Chaconne very soon after, which accounts for the consummate ease with which she plays both works. There have, of course, been many changes in attitudes to the performance of baroque keyboard music in the intervening years and she shows full awareness of these in the notes.

The Bärenreiter score of the Chaconne is quite different from the version which she originally learned, itself closer to the Peters version. Without confusing the reader with detail, she acknowledges that she has stuck to the version which she learned, thereby allying her performance with that of Edwin Fischer, though she admits that the other version sounds more convincing when played on the harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock. I don’t have that version to check what she says: I don’t believe that it’s currently available – indeed, versions of this Chaconne are decidedly thin on the ground.

The pairing of Handel and Haydn may seem rather odd, apart from the fact that 2009 brings the 250th anniversary of the death of the former and the 200th of the death of the latter. Be that as it may, I found Hewitt’s Haydn just as enjoyable as her Handel. The requirements of a good Haydn performance may be different from those needed for Handel, but those Franz Joseph Haydnqualities which I have quoted at the beginning of this review from the Hyperion webpage stand her in equally good stead here, these keyboard sonatas still stand very much in the shadows of Mozart and, to an even greater extent, Haydn’s rather ungrateful pupil Beethoven. Angela Hewitt’s account of the E-flat Sonata, Hob.XVI:52 goes a little way toward helping to redress the balance. Perhaps she and Hyperion would like to take the matter further.

The recording is excellent and the booklet of notes, written by Hewitt herself, are all that we have come to expect from Hyperion.—Brian Wilson


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