HANDEL: Chaconne with 21 Variations in G Major; Suite No. 2 in F Major; Suite No. 8 in F Minor; HAYDN: Variations in F Minor; Piano Sonata No. 52 in E-flat Major – Angela Hewitt, piano – Hyperion

by | Sep 14, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HANDEL: Chaconne with 21 Variations in G Major; Suite No. 2 in F Major; Suite No. 8 in F Minor; HAYDN: Variations in F Minor; Piano Sonata No. 52 in E-flat Major – Angela Hewitt, piano – Hyperion CDA67736, 67:25 [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] ****:

Angela Hewitt turns her attentions to the music of Handel and Haydn in this elegant album, recorded 17-18 September 2008 and 17-18 March 2009. Foremost, Hewitt performs on warmly-pitched Fazioli instrument at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, under the production guidance of Ludger Boeckenhoff.

Hewitt opens with a piece dear to the heart of Edwin Fischer two generations ago: the 1733 Chaconne in G, HWV 435, whose opening bass line provides an outline for the successive variations which tend to speed up as the music proceeds. The happy combination of freedom-in-necessity becomes the rule as the music gains in momentum and expressivity, the music moving to the minor in Variations 9-16, then reverts to the major mode after having achieved a stunning series of stretti.

The four-movement Suite No. 2 turns out to be an old acquaintance of Hewitt’s, since she learned it at university.  It opens with a Bach-like delicacy, plastic and ornamental. The chromatic line moves to A Minor, then to an Allegro of steady motion whose brisk figures could easily be transposed to a chest of strings. Hewitt’s sensitive clarity of line propels the light figures forward while retaining the charm of musical personality. In the slow  movement  Hewitt has added ornaments between responding voices ad libitum until that last two bars, which belong strictly to the Master. The last movement, a four-voice fugue, whose clear linear texture would likely sound equally lithe on the organ.

The Suite in F Minor HWV 433 opens with a French overture which long delays the tonic, opting after 15 bars for the dominant in a rather strict series of imitations.  The second movement, a Fugue, posits a martial air but keeps the textures transparent. The Allemande moves blithely enough, easily reminiscent of a Bach partita movement. The Courante writhes in slinky beauty, its compelling line utilized by Handel as well in his Dixit Dominus, HWV 232. The piece ends with a sprightly Gigue, its natural propulsive gait attractive and optimistic. For a piece relatively new to Hewitt’s fingers, she  has its learned beauties well under her liquid control.

Pianists as divergent as Dohnanyi, Backhaus, and Perahia have gravitated to the fine Variations in F Minor (1793) of Joseph Haydn, whose latter sections allow the composer a free fantasy of dramatic chromatic power. The piece evolves from two distinct themes separated by a Neapolitan G-flat chord played forte. Syncopations and elegant turns embellish the themes as they respond to each other and intertwine. Beethoven may well have learned that even small figures may unleash unexpected power from this very piece, whose ornaments themselves delicately explode into beguiling inventions. Hewitt’s pearly play advances the fluid charms of this exquisitely moody piece until the Andante opening repeats. Those latter pages, expressive in modes that transcend even the empfindsamkeit school, give Hewitt plenty of emotional room for her dark and convulsive side as well as the composer’s nature. 

Finally, the Sonata No. 52 in E-flat, the culmination of the composer’s catholic and witty sophistication. Bold strokes mark the opening Allegro moderato, with its sudden shifts in character, the eruption of darker chromatics, and the sojourns into remote key signatures. Often, the piece seems to have an emotional kinship with the Mozart Fantasia in C Minor, K. 475. Even a moment or two of music-box sonority intrudes into the eclectic mix of  sentiments. The fleeter passages Hewitt passes off with diaphanous charm. The moving Adagio proceeds in E Major, a departure from ‘classical’ practice, but affecting at every turn. Episodic, in a hesitant, ’broken’ style, its chromatic line  anticipates many an introspective moment in Beethoven, especially in his Op. 31 triptych.  The last movement, Finale: Presto sparkles with musical champagne in every bar, whirls of triplets and ostinato figures that move too piquantly fast for “dire” contemplation. To paraphrase G. B. Shaw, happy is the pianist whose Haydn is his profession.

–Gary Lemco

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