Pianist sees Beethoven in an 18th-century light

February 27, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Last night in Meyerhoff Hall with conductor David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony, Angela Hewitt gave a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 that cleaned out the ears.

Hewitt, a Canadian pianist in her middle 30s, played the famous opening chord by rolling it: Instead of playing the notes simultaneously, she played them in quick succession from bottom to top. This is a practice of 18th-century music, and it is perhaps no accident that Hewitt is a specialist in the music of Bach.

The Fourth Concerto, written only a few years after the close of the 18th century by a man who was 30 years old when it ended, responds well to such treatment. Hewitt's playing -- whimsical, witty, full of quirky fantasy -- kept the ear in expectation. Like many players who specialize in 18th-century music, she played with very little arm motion, letting the fingers do most of the work. Thus there was very little of the big sound produced by the larger muscles of the body that one is accustomed to hearing in this piece. The music often darted at lightning speed -- Hewitt played the concerto in scarcely 30 minutes -- and it did not produce the meditative effect usually created by pianists who see the Fourth Concerto as an anticipation of Brahms.

This concerto does look forward to Brahms, but it also looks backward to Mozart. Hewitt is clearly influenced by the authentic-instruments movement, as is BSO music director Zinman. This conductor almost invariably gives a fine accompaniment; last night, working with a pianist with whom he must have felt much accord, he gave a particularly inspired one.

Hewitt clearly will be back, and it will be interesting to hear whatever she chooses to play, particularly music written later in the 19th century, such as the concertos of Chopin, Schumann and Mendelssohn.

The program closed with a performance of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony that was similarly beautiful in its freshness, its attention to detail -- how exciting the storm was in the way the conductor let the winds and timpani cut through its texture -- and its depth of feeling.

The program will be repeated tonight at 8:15 and Sunday afternoon at 3.

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