I arrived at Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt’s Musica Viva performance at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music on Thursday night expecting Bach.
She is, after all, synonymous with the German composer through extensive, celebrated recordings and is halfway through a global Odyssey to play every piece of Bach keyboard music ever composed. Which is a lot.
She has been playing Bach since she was 3 or 4, and hearing it before that.
Her father was the organist and choirmaster at Ottowa’s Christ Church Cathedral, and a traveling soloist known for his Bach.
Her mother was a piano teacher who reinforced in her the significance of the German composer, and so Ms Hewitt is quite literally forged in Bach.
In the first section of Program 1 on Thursday night, as she played the First and Fourth Partitas, it was as if time stood still as she exhibited mastery of works that have been imbued in her since childhood.
Cascading, mellifluous, brilliant.
The variations kept coming after the break in Scarlati’s Sonatas in D and B major, and the thought did cross my mind that “here we go again’’, but as we moved into Scarlati’s E and A major Sonatas there was a definite shift in the style and tempo.
The “build” crescendoed with performance fireworks in Ravel’s Sonatine and Chabrier’s Bourree fantasque – two beautifully complex works performed with trademark assuredness and clarity by Ms Hewitt, all from memory.
It made me wonder how she keeps a lid on the lightning during those quieter, but no less complex, Bach pieces.
As she said in a talk after the show, Bach is the perfect vehicle for any pianist to warm up with, and in the grand tradition of that deeply religious composer, I suppose it’s all about keeping the faith.
The audience response at the conclusion of the Chabrier piece was immediate and rapturous.
Debussy’s Clair de lune loomed almost a cliche when announced as the encore, but in Ms Hewitt’s hands it proved the perfect nightcap to an intoxicating evening of virtuosity.
Further to the generous and engaging chat after the show, Ms Hewitt expanded on how she deals with performance nerves and memorising difficult works, two issues she clearly has no trouble with.
(Hard work and preparation are the key, if you were wondering.)
This is Ms Hewitt’s second national recital tour for Musica Viva. She has further shows at Melbourne (May 20), Perth (May 23), Adelaide (May 25) and Sydney (May 27).