I’m lucky enough to attend plenty of concerts. One natural result of this is that I often become somewhat blasé about what is actually happening in them: about the little miracle that is musicians using their skills and passions to entertain and move a group of people (most of whom they will never even make eye-contact with in their lives) by producing sounds in an expressive way. Something about Angela Hewitt’s Saturday night Wigmore Hall concert, in which the specialist Bach pianist was joined by flautist Andrea Oliva and violinist Julia Schröder for an all-JSB performance, made me remember just what an extraordinary thing these musical moments are. Cocooned in the luxurious recital hall, the celebrated musicians nestled in the extraordinary pre-Raphaelite cupola, performing a variety of the composer’s intimate instrumental works: the whole setup served as an ideal reminder of what an amazing thing live classical music is.

Angela Hewitt © James Cheadle
Angela Hewitt
© James Cheadle

The evening began with Oliva and Hewitt performing the Flute Sonata in A, BWV1023, a lovely little piece infused with a definite sense of fun. The opening keyboard passage, originally written for harpsichord, of course, for a moment took me by surprise by its fullness of texture and ripeness of timbre, but with Hewitt at the keys one gets used to that sound so quickly as she guides the listener through Bach’s contrapuntal textures with uncanny ease and confidence. The clear, caressing sound of Oliva’s flute blended perfectly with Hewitt’s playing, and the opening Vivace bounced along happily, featuring some truly charming contrapuntal play between the two players. Their communication and synthesis was exemplified in the serenely mournful Largo e dolce, in which intriguing little pauses in the musical line were felt as much as planned between the players. The bounce of the first movement was amplified to a bound in the Allegro, and it was with a sigh of contentment at the sheer delight of the performance that the audience greeted its final cadence.

Hewitt continued her masterclass in contrapuntal voicing in the Partita no. 4 in D, BWV828. Its grandiose French-style Overture is a very Baroque affair, all powered wigs and frilly lace, beginning as it does with a rather pompous homophonic section in which heavily scored double-dotted quavers are prefigured by upward scalic flourishes before leading into a very impressive faster section with relentlessly rapid running lines. The music relaxes somewhat in the subsequent movements, becoming infused with a more reflective feeling, at times hinting at pathos, at others, cheekiness. Hewitt who brought these movements alive for the listener, drawing the audience into a fascinating, lively conversation with the music by enduing each line, with both intellectual and emotional content, with character, with personality. Forging a musical persona out of the fibrous contrapuntal lines, Hewitt’s performance was the kiss of life Bach’s keyboard creation required; the lack of what one might call melodic material in Bach’s instrumental music often makes it quite easy for the listener (or at least, me) to switch off, but like the perfect host, the discourse Hewitt prompted kept all parties totally engrossed throughout the piece.

After the interval, violinist Julia Schröder joined Hewitt to perform the Violin Sonata no. 6, BWV1019, beginning the second half with a vibrant, energised sound in the breezy Allegro. The two slow movements in particular allowed Schröder to shine, the first with some rich low register playing, the second with some quintessentially Bachian striving violin writing. Although the cohesion between these two was not quite as spotless as in the concert’s previous duet, the final Allegro featured some deliciously theatrical interaction between the players.

Three parts of The Musical Offering, BWV1079 rounded off proceedings: firstly, two movements for Hewitt alone, the three-part and six-part Ricercars; and finally the Trio Sonata in C minor, bringing all three musicians together on stage. This latter piece gave the pianist some much needed respite after the intensity of the complex fugal Ricecars, although even when playing the relatively simple continuo parts, Hewitt did so with complete engagedness and utmost musicality, affording the delightful sonic combination of violin and flute a subtle harmonic background and bass backbone. It was the preceding two fugues, though, that best illustrated the composer’s genius and the performer’s remarkable capacity to bring it alive. This was Bach at his most cerebral, and Hewitt’s total immersion in the music was captivating to watch, as well as hear. The bizarre chromatic theme, presented to Bach by Fredrick the Great as a challenge, wove in and out, creating a rich musical fabric fit for a king. The high level of stamina and concentration required of the keyboard player had a visual effect on Hewitt, and she looked understandably exhausted as she took her bow. She had offered her whole self to the music, and the result was breathtaking.