Wednesday 4th May 2016

JS Bach       Partita No.2 in C minor, BWV 826

Haydn         Sonata in B minor, Hob.XVI:32

Haydn         Fantasia in C major, Hob.XVII:4

Beethoven Sonata Op.31/2 in A minor, [Tempest]

JS Bach       Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903

A welcome return to Ilkley for this internationally-renowned pianist. Her performances and recordings of Bach have drawn particular praise, marking her out as one of the composer's foremost interpreters of our time. Her superb performance of the Goldberg variations in 2002 is still remembered by many.

Born into a musical family in Ottawa, Angela Hewitt was in 2006 named 'Artist of the Year' at the Gramophone Awards and was also made OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Her programme brings two masterful and complex minor-key piano sonatas by Haydn and Schubert sandwiching the madcap presto of the Haydn Fantasia, the whole wrapped in Bach: first one of his elegant keyboard dance suites and last the virtuosity and harmonic daring of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue.


A superb concert to end a superb season

This Canadian pianist has been described as ‘the pre-eminent Bach pianist of our time’, and book-ending her programme with two of his major works she showed how justified this encomium is. Whilst respectful of period style she is unafraid to utilize the full resources of the modern grand piano with its wide dynamic range.

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She began with the second Partita, its opening Sinfonia showing three key aspects of her playing, the rhythmic precision in the imperious opening, her singing expressive tone in the gentler music that followed and then in the final contrapuntal section a perfect balance between the two parts, the two hands in lively dialogue; nothing didactic, all splendidly alive.

The ensuing dance movements continued to delight, with elegant phrasing and clever variation in the way the many repeated sections were played.

Then came two Haydn works and their contrasting characters were colourfully presented. The B minor sonata isn’t often ingratiating and she was always alive to its mostly truculent demeanour whilst giving the occasional moments of charm full value. Her finger-work in the many rapid passages was miraculous in its clarity. Up to now her concert had been serious in manner, but her playing of the C major Fantasia showed a keen sense of humour.

A change of advertised programme gave her the chance to talk lucidly to the audience about the substituted work, Beethoven’s so-called Tempest sonata. The many recitative-like sections in the first movement were spellbinding, her subtle use of the sustaining pedal creating an almost unworldly effect. The glorious slow movement received a rapt performance and the finale was played with both the power and delicacy that it deserves.

Then it was back to Bach, her performance of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue showing what an astonishing feat of composition this masterpiece is. Two happy brief encores concluded a memorable evening.

It’s been a wonderfully varied season mixing the familiar with the far less well-known, and next year’s menu shows equal promise. Lucky us.


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Recommended Recordings


Bach – Partita No.2

Tonight’s artist is one of the foremost exponents of Bach on the modern piano, and the 2 disc set of all 6 Partitas on Hyperion CDA 671912, at full price, provides ample evidence of this. As a budget alternative, the Young Russian pianist, Ivan Levit, demonstrates the same order of excellence on a well-recorded Sony 2 disc set (8843 07630-2).

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Another pianist who attracts much critical admiration isYevgeny Sudbin, and both Haydn Works are included on BISSACD 1788 (full Price). Piano Sonatas Nos. 53 and 60 plus the Andante with Variations complete the disc. Budget alternatives come from Jeno Jandó, who is at his best in Haydn, and is recorded on Naxos 8.550844 and 8.553826. Various Haydn Sonatas and miscellaneous Piano Pieces complete the CDs.

Beethoven – Sonata Op.31/2 [Tempest]

Many of the recordings of great Beethoven interpreters are only available in sets of the complete Piano Sonatas, but I have three more affordable suggestions.
Sviatoslav Richter on a full price Praga disc, DSD 350061 gives a very thoughtful interpretation, and the couplings are Piano Sonatas Nos. 18 and 23. An alternative, more aggressive, reading comes from Friedrich Gulda on a budget price Decca 2 disc set, E4430122. Piano Sonatas Nos. 14, 15, 21-24, 32 complete the set, which is well-recorded. Finally, from a very fine Beethoven interpreter, often forgotten nowadays, Hans Richter-Haaser, there is a very cheap, well-recorded 6 CD set from EMI, 648309-2. 12 other Beethoven Sonatas, the Diabelli Variations, and Piano Concertos Nos.3-5 complete the set which can be obtained for less than the cost of 1 full price CD.

Bach – BWV 903

Another Angela Hewitt triumph on Hyperion CDA 66746 (full Price) includes the Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue, Fantasia in c minor, 2 Part Inventions and 3 Part Inventions. Alfred Brendel, on a medium Price Decca CD, 475 7760, provides an excellent alternative, and includes the Italian Concerto, Fantasia in c minor, and other Bach works.

For those expecting the Schubert Sonata, Raymond’s recommendations were:
Schubert – Sonata D784

A Budget 2 disc set from Decca 467 0922 has Alfred Brendel in superbly played, live performances of Schubert’s D.784, D.840, D.894, D.959 and D.960. These are slightly more interesting than the studio recordings.

Raymond Waud.

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