REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Angela Hewitt, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, April 12

Angela Hewitt: “A multitude of subtleties and a sensational technique”

PIANIST Angela Hewitt played preludes and fugues, framing examples by Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and Barber with the original master himself, J S Bach. These bare facts mask a multitude of subtleties and a sensational technique. She held her capacity audience spellbound.

Most performers are ill advised to open with an address, just when the punters are all agog with anticipation. But her words were delivered so graciously, with wit and charm, that we were delighted to hear her insights. And she was insistent on no applause until the interval, a smart decision that helped everyone’s focus.

In mid-career Mendelssohn made a deliberate study of Bach’s counterpoint, which resulted in his six Preludes & Fugues, Op 35. The first of these swerves between E minor and E major. Hewitt made a stunning moto perpetuo of its prelude, before robustly highlighting the fugue subject in a majestic crescendo to its climactic chorale.

Shostakovich was another composer to hold Bach in reverence and he wrote a full set of 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op 87 in 1951. The spare textures of the F minor fugue, No. 18, are ideally suited to Hewitt’s style and its counterpoint emerged with immense clarity.

Even more incisive was the demanding fugue that concludes Barber’s piano sonata, its relentless cross-accents dazzling at high speed.

Hewitt had opened with the earliest numbers from the Book I of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, a handful more than the programme had promised – perhaps she was in the zone and forgot herself. No-one minded in the least, quite the contrary. Her ability to give differing degrees of prominence to contrapuntal lines, even as many as three or four, remains one of the wonders of her intelligent approach to Bach.

The last of Bach’s six partitas (dance suites in all but name), BWV 830 in E minor, is one of the towering monuments of the keyboard repertory. The crispness of her rhythms was especially apparent here.

After a rhapsodic Toccata, with a fine central fugue, the Allemande was phrased with particular subtlety, so that the succeeding Corrente, taken at some pace, had a jack-in-the-box flavour by comparison; the abrupt Air was brisk too.

The stately Sarabande was deeply melancholic, its dotted rhythms making it taut, even edgy. There was room here for a touch more serenity. After a witty Gavotte, the Gigue, even with the jagged intervals of its fugue, was remarkably balletic, further testament – although none was needed – to Hewitt’s prodigious dexterity, both mental and physical.

As an encore, she wound down with the very first of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, in E major, generating a wonderful cantabile.

Review by Martin Dreyer

York Chamber Music Festival returns for live concert series from September 16 to 18

Angela Hewitt: Canadian pianist to play recital and gala concert at York Chamber Music Festival

YORK Chamber Music Festival 2021 celebrates the return of live chamber music with a stellar cast of musicians and “some of the most beautiful music ever written” from September 16 to 18.

Billed as “the chance for a few days to refresh ourselves after the lockdown”, the festival opens with a solo recital by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, performing works by Francois Couperin, Mozart and J S Bach at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, on September 16 at 7.30pm.

Two nights later, she joins fellow festival artists Anthony Marwood and Pablo Hernan, violins, Lilli Maijala, viola, and Tim Lowe, cellist, at the Lyons for the 7.30pm closing gala concert of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 17, The Hunt, Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A Minor and Dvořák’s sunlit Piano Quintet in A Major.

Festival artistic director Lowe persuaded Angela Hewitt to come to York at a dinner party in London. “Her passion, on which her international career has been built, is playing Bach’s keyboard music on the piano,” he says.

“This music would have been composed for harpsichord or clavichord. Bach himself was always a great experimenter and surely would have loved the sound world of the piano, which, apart from anything else, is much more suited to modern concert halls.

Tim Lowe: York Chamber Music Festival artistic director and cellist

“Why not do the same for Bach’s contemporary, the French composer François ‘Le Grand’ Couperin, who also composed for the harpsichord? So, Angela’s recital is based around these two great composers.”

Festival artists Marwood, Hernan, Maijala and Lowe play string quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Schumann at the National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, on September 17 at 7.30pm.

Two lunchtime concerts at 1pm at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, complement the programme. On September 17, Tim Lowe and pianist John Paul Ekins perform Beethoven’s  12 Variations on a Theme from Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, Schumann’s Fantasiestücke and Rachmaninov’s lush, romantic Cello Sonata for Cello and Piano.

Ekins returns on the Saturday to play works that connect Beethoven and Liszt: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, followed by Liszt’s Sonetto del Petrarca and Liebesträume No. 1 in A flat, concluding with Beethoven’s Adelaide, arranged for piano by Liszt.

Lowe, once a chorister at York Minster, looks forward to this month’s festival enriching his home city’s cultural life. “The idea is that everyone, players and audiences, should have a joyous few days of deep listening to music that is both intimate and compelling. We’re going live!” he says. “Please note, we’re offering an outreach free ticket for young people aged 18 and under.” 

Festival tickets for adults cost £10 to £15. To book, go to: Full festival details can be found at