If we consider Domenico Scarlatti an honorary Spaniard, since half of his life was spent there, then this was an entirely Spanish programme. Gerald Larner's fine programme notes gave a marvellous overview and sense of connection, including the unsurprising influence (both positive and problematic) of the guitar on much of the music. Helpful and interesting as that was, in the sunny Queen's Hall courtyard before the concert, I soon forgot about guitar connections. There was so much to admire in Hewitt's playing that I found myself absorbed entirely in matters pianistic.

Angela Hewitt © Maria Teresa De Luca
Angela Hewitt
© Maria Teresa De Luca

Each half opened with four of Scarlatti's binary form sonatas. These embody everything you could hope for in a starter: lightness and freshness; vigour and piquancy. The running paired notes and trills of Sonata in D minor Kk9 allowed Hewitt to ease into the programme, before embarking on the more energetic Sonata in C major Kk159 with its awakening 'hunting horn' harmonies and crisply executed ornaments. Hewitt's take on this sonata was engagingly playful; there was something of the silent movies in its second half. The four-part counterpoint of the more introspective Sonata in B minor Kk87 was beautifully shaped by Hewitt, known to thousands for her performances of Bach fugues. This in-ornamented sonata, with its syncopations and cross-rhythms felt almost unmetered. The supremely virtuosic Sonata in D major Kk29 ended this group. Many of this programme's works feature hand-crossing but this was possibly the most stunning as the left hand, in addition to arcing over the right, makes several stabbing incursions into the right's territory; all of this at terrific speed and with impressive articulation.

Scarlatti's vigour was complemented by Granados' gentleness – certainly in the “Villanesca” from his Danzas españolas Op. 37. The hand-crossing here simply supplied a light, upper-register echo of the ostinato bass note; at least it looked simple here. The following “Andaluza” raised the energy level noticeably. Hewitt's shaping of key and textural contrasts was masterly. The closing “Rondella aragonese”, with its accelerating triple metre and rapidly thickening texture was delivered with fiery aplomb. So fiery was it that several people, presumably out of sight of a programme, took this to be the end of what would have been a short first half. Hewitt soon appeared and watched with seeming bewilderment as sell-out seats were reoccupied.

She continued with two further Granados works from Goyescas Op.11. The lament promised in “Quejas, o La maja y el ruiseñor” made itself felt in the programme's most chromatic and searchingly played music so far. Tasteful use of rubato ensured heartfelt but not undisciplined lamentation. 

“El Pelele” closed the first half. Depicting a Goya scene, where a life-size rag doll is tossed in a blanket, this is a work of great energy and cheer. Octave trills, played by rapidly alternating arms might give some idea of the dynamic sound world, as might the left hand's counter-melody in octaves beneath right hand's reprise of the opening theme. Such busy textures would be easy to muddy, but Hewitt's account was one of oxygenated vigour.

Scarlatti's Sonata in A major Kk113 opens with an explosive question-answer gesture before opening out into a more complex contrapuntal texture, full of life-giving syncopations. The movement's energy, certainly as rendered here, has a zest which many would love to feel, let alone communicate, on a midweek morning. Sonatas in G minor and G major (Kk8 & Kk13) ended the set. The reflective and virtually un-ornamented was nicely offset by the sparklingly trill-filled and adventurous.

Three dances from Albéniz's Suite española Op.47 offered a mini-tour of Spain. Hewitt seemed to relish the coquettish feel of “Sevilla” which she made sizzle with light energy. “Asturias”, like “Sevilla”, features a lyrical central section flanked by more vigorous dance passages. Hewitt's tasteful dynamics ensured nice shaping of the many repeated notes of the rhythmic moments. This was even more the case in the closing “Castilla” whose texture changed more frequently than its companions.

Fantasia baeitca by Manuel de Falla (who loved Scarlatti) is a great finisher. It sounds supremely Andalusian (Baetica was the Roman word for the province) and, certainly in Hewitt's hands, seemed somehow to hint at what a great orchestrator Falla was. More than once, sweeping harp arpeggios came to mind. There is some fantastically biting dissonance which, together with the many stamping rhythms, Hewitt delivered with great energy. This is a technical tour de force and the audience seemed genuinely wowed. Following the final flourish, Hewitt extended both arms. There could have been no doubt that this was the end of a wonderful concert.