Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In review--Happy birthday Handel & Haydn

Angela Hewitt
Plays Handel & Haydn
Hyperion Records

In the past I have listened to award-winning Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt’s Bach recordings, which I found as delicious as the Bach interpretations of the late Glenn Gould (also Canadian). So when I put the Handel & Haydn CD into my player, I thought I was listening to Bach. I even pulled the CD out of my computer to make sure that Hyperion had not made a mistake and accidentally put a Bach recording in the jewel case. They had not.

I read Hewitt’s liner notes in which she discussed the similarities between George Frideric Handel’s Suite No 2 in F major and Bach’s repertoire. “If you play this for somebody without telling them who wrote it, I bet the last person they would name would be Handel. Many would say Bach.”
I would say the same about Chaconne (with 21 variations) in G major, which Hewitt opens the recording. But why should any of this surprise me? Handel and Bach were contemporaries, both of Germanic backgrounds, performing Baroque music. However, I would never have mistaken Handel’s Messiah for any of Bach’s church compositions.

Hewitt has performed the work of diverse composers ranging from Bach, Chopin, Granados, Messiaen, Ravel, Couperin and others. Similar to Gould, Hewitt has excelled with her performances of Bach’s keyboard work and has won prestigious competitions such as the Toronto International Bach competition and a top prize winner in the Bach competitions of Leipzig, Washington DC and the Dino Ciani Competition at La Scala, Milan. I am hearing the ghost of Bach on the first half of this CD.

When Hewitt shifts directions with Franz Joseph Haydn’s Sonata ‘Un piccolo divertimento’ (Variations in F minor), I hear the ghost of Beethoven. Not that this should come as a surprise either since Beethoven was once a student of Haydn. Hewitt plays all of these works so beautifully, seemingly effortlessly as if her fingers float over the keys of her instrument. She ends the recording with Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E flat major and the entire recording acts as a celebratory offering to both Handel who celebrates his 250th anniversary and Haydn who celebrates his 200th anniversary in 2009.

I personally have found this recording uplifting and sensual. Hewitt’s playing enchants my senses and still allows me to focus on my work, which these days, involves a lot of details. I have found this recording also relaxing at bedtime and it plays as lovely music in the background while I read. I would imagine too that this music would act as a healing balm on many occasions. And who does not love beautiful music expertly rendered by one of the stars of classical music?

Hyperion Records

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