Angela Hewitt at St Peter’s Church of Ireland, Drogheda on 22 September 2016

Between Louth Contemporary, Ardee Baroque and, in tonight’s case, the Drogheda International Classical Music Series, the art music scene in Louth continues to punch above its weight. For its fifth season, the Drogheda International series opens with no less a figure than one of the world’s most renowned pianists, Angela Hewitt. Known especially for her performances of the music of J.S. Bach, Hewitt is back on the Bach trail, as she begins her four-year, 12-recital ‘Bach Odyssey’ at the Wigmore Hall in London on Sunday. Tonight we hear the programme of the first of these, a mix of early pieces, fantasias, and the two- and three-part inventions.

Hewitt establishes her characteristic sound from the start, with clear articulation leavened with an incredible smoothness and sureness of touch. A passionate advocate for playing Bach on the piano, she makes a powerful case for Bach’s implicit pianism through her own playing. Her feeling for phrasing is immaculate, and she is capable of creating an almost perfect diminution of sound in an individual voice when it’s needed, and brings out the contrast between voices in telling style.

The youthful Aria Variata [‘Variations in the Italian Style’] is a wonderful discovery, with Hewitt bringing us through its various sections with an almost haunting clarity at times. The hushed reprise of the aria at the end is like a prayer, beautifully meditative. The only criticism of Hewitt would be that she can make her material sound all too neat and well-packaged at times, but the moments when her dramatic flair comes to the fore refute this. We hear this especially in the Three-Part Sinfonia No. 9, which in her hands comes close to being a dramatic tour-de-force, the sudden rush of power even evoking the romantic approaches to Bach of decades ago. The Inventions and Sinfonias, all too rarely heard in recital, present moments of brilliant passagework, poetic grace, dancelike poise, brimming wit and organic flow, all rich with ideas, expertly presented.

The two early Capriccios (both probably written when Bach was in his early 20s) give a fascinating view into the composer’s ‘tool-box’, with themes and textures that clearly informed later and more familiar pieces. Hewitt closes the recital with the short Prelude and Fugue in A minor, which again is beautifully-presented, the fugue’s main subjects neatly delineated with real feeling for the work’s focus and direction.

After much applause, Hewitt returns to play the short aria from the Goldberg Variations, her approach smooth and unhurried, giving us a tantalising glimpse into another great work, with a gently curving cadence at the end. Hearing playing like this in such an immediate and intimate setting as St Peter’s was a rare pleasure, and one that will hopefully be repeated.


J.S. Bach:

Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906

Aria Variata “alla Maniera Italiana”, BWV 989

Fifteen Two-part Inventions, BWV 772-786

Fifteen Three-part Sinfonias (Inventions), BWV 787-801

Capriccio on the Departure of his Beloved Brother, BWV 992

Capriccio in E major, BWV 993

Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904


Picture of Angela Hewitt: © Ole Christiansen