I must admit that when I journeyed to Piedmont Pianos before it moved out of downtown San Francisco, I wasn’t taken by a huge, 10-foot plus Italian piano with extra keys that was the featured attraction. (The Giraffe piano at Peninsula in Palo Alto upstaged it)
And the older, re-built Steinways on the SF premises were loaded with Renner hammers which produced a bright and angular tone–(I always preferred Steinway and Sons hammers for the New York models) The latter usually required more time in voicing to an aesthetically pleasing level.
Angela Hewitt, Canadian-born pianist plays the big, 4-pedal, Fazioli, and in her artistically fluent hands makes it work as if it were custom-made for her. (In truth a pianist of her caliber can make any instrument, with a full deck of working keys, “sing” and “dance”)
But notwithstanding the piano Hewitt chooses to express the music of J.S. Bach, she approaches his body of literature with a gorgeous lyricism that “purists” might question.
Example: A public You Tube posting to the French Suite No. 5 in G Major:
“Opinion is not knowledge: you may like ‘dying phrases’ and ‘mixed dynamics’ etc. but these dynamic features were simply impossible on clavier instruments. It’s a fact that cannot be dismissed if a performer doesn’t want his Bach to sound like Ravel or Chopin. Applying Romantic “tools” to Baroque music will lead to an out of style interpretation.”
I can’t join the conservatives on this one because Hewitt is so profoundly musical that Bach would have opened his ears to this new universe of “color” made possible by a modern-day piano. Why would he have opposed progress, and kept himself a status quo, artifact? As it happened, his harmonies, so adventurous for the time, revealed a futuristic, innovative tendency. (I’m awe-struck by the dissonances for example in the plaintive G minor Little Prelude BWV 930)
My view is not meant to dismiss Clavier instruments of the Baroque as having their own justified universe of expression. But why fuss over the medium and not the MESSAGE?
Hewitt excels in her range of nuance and phrasing from start to finish in the J.S. Bach French Suite No. 5 in G. (BWV816)
She shapes and “dips” phrases to heart-fluttering levels (Not gushing with Romanticism), but in tasteful bounds, possessing an intuitive though deliberate understanding of sequences and their relationships. (She’s keenly sensitized to harmonic rhythm and its wedded relationship to phrasing)
Contrapuntal lines are clearly woven through the musical fabric.
Hewitt is an impeccable listener drawing others into her vestibule of focused concentration. This is playing that I would hope to emulate over the utopian horizon.
In a different podium of expression, she registers a definitive opinion about Bach’s equal temperament and its tie-in with modern-day tuning.
Her assertion that human “ear tuning” is far superior to the computer-driven machine is well taken.
Finally, I’m convinced that the artist is a miraculous tribute to her early dance and musical training. The latter encompassed the study of more than one instrument. The daughter of musicians, she learned the piano, organ, violin, and took voice lessons. What a rich instrumental bank to draw upon. (I can hear the violin bow drawn deeply and intensely in some phrases, or the ornamental vocal lines spun by a coloratura in others) Such a vast assortment of nuances, colors, and articulations permeate playing that is memorable beyond its expression in real time.
The dance dimension of Hewitt’s playing is the other half of her performance equation. It feeds an inspirational display of well-rounded virtuosity.
Just to compare a different approach to Bach, I listened to Andras Schiff perform the same French Suite in G.
If we cut to the chase and juxtapose 14:08 on Hewitt’s track to the end –the Gigue– with Schiff’s starting at 12:52, there’s no doubt in my mind which rendering would send me out the door jigging my way to BART.
Angela Hewitt’s official website: