Angela Hewitt is a fine Canadian artist who has built a big reputation particularly in the music of Bach, springing from her win in the first Toronto International Bach Competition in 1985. I was present for the final round of that competition and I certainly concurred with the judges. While I've always admired her playing, sometimes I find her sound too astringent for my tastes, particularly in the second book of the Bach Well Tempered Klaviar. So I was curious to see how she would fare in Handel and Haydn.
Hewitt brings the same direct powerful contrapuntal approach to this music as she does to Bach. This means very clear lines, splendid attention to detail and careful weighting of each note. There's also a good measure of passion and flare in the Handel Chaconne and the Haydn Sonatas. But there's also something missing from this playing and it took just a few minutes diving into my collection to confirm my suspicions. Murray Perahia on his Handel and Scarlatti recital [Sony 62785] brings a much needed dose of warmth to his piano tone; more importantly, he shapes the music organically so that it flows and simply pulses with life. The Chaconne is a tour de force here, absolutely irresistible and revealed for the masterpiece it truly is. Hewitt sounds mechanical and analytical by comparison. The same holds true for Suite No 2. Handel's Suites are stunning compositions, easily the equal of Bach's Partitas. If you have a taste for more, I would also recommend the performances by Gavrilov and Richter, who have produced a single wonderful four-disc set between them on EMI Classics.
This Hyperion disc comes on the heels of the exceptionally fine selection of Haydn Piano Sonatas from another Canadian, Marc-Andre Hamelin, also on Hyperion. The E Flat Major Sonata Hob XVI:52 appears on both discs. Hamelin simply offers more of everything. The piano tone is at once warmer and deeper, while his exceptional virtuosity illuminates the music while never intruding into the pure musicality of his performance. His control of phrasing and tone color breathes life in this period piece. It's unfair to other pianists, but Hamelin has made this work his own. He does for Haydn what Perahia has done for Handel.
The recording was made in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin in March 2009. The sound quality is good but not exceptional, being a little on the dry side, which serves to emphasize the lack of warmth in Hewitt's playing.