The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is back, and they brought renowned pianist Angela Hewitt along to kick off their new post-lockdown season. Ottawa-born Hewitt is something of a homegrown friend of the TSO, having now performed with Canada’s preeminent orchestra at least 40 times. In her introductory remarks, Hewitt mentioned how she’d freed up an extra week in her fully-booked touring season, just to make the trip to Toronto work. It was worth it.
Hewitt is one of a handful of Canadian exports who have made a major impact on the classical music world. Rightfully heralded as a leading interpreter of Bach, she has a light touch and an artist’s instinct that saw her perfectly in sync with the orchestra. The COVID-curtailed performance – half-capacity audience and no intermission gave it a more intimate feel – featured performances of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12, the Saint-Saëns “Wedding Cake”, Finzi’s “Eclogue”, and Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 2.
The Mozart was fine, though I thought I detected a couple slight miscues in the orchestra. Chalk it up to post-lockdown jitters. The Wedding Cake – yes, it was a circa 1886 wedding gift to a friend of Saint-Saëns – served as something of an amuse-bouche: light, fun, and effervescent. Hewitt, and her friends in the orchestra, were quite visibly enjoying themselves.
The one disappointing note to the evening was the Finzi. I’m not familiar with the composer, but I found the Eclogue dispiritingly maudlin. All rising strings and obvious minor chords, like emotionally manipulative movie music. It made my hair stand on end, and not in the good way.
All was forgiven, of course, with the centrepiece Bach concerto. Likely first composed as an oboe concerto (the original score is now lost), Bach then transcribed it for harpsichord, though the piano version is perhaps equally well known. In Hewitt’s deft hands, it proved a joyous, moving performance. From the opening allegro to the slow, plaintive “Siciliano”, through the showy allegro finale (which Hewitt may have pushed a tad towards presto, which is fine by me), it was the perfect way to end the evening. Except, it wasn’t, as Hewitt delighted the audience with an encore rendition of Schumann’s “Dedication”. Originally composed as a song for Clara Schumann on the occasion of their wedding, it was later, and more famously, arranged for solo piano by Liszt. The Dedication is definitely a showpiece, with complex passages designed to show off the performer’s virtuosity, and it was nice to get a taste of solo Hewitt to close out the evening. This is what live performance is for: seeing an artist at the peak of their form, playing the music they’ve spent a lifetime perfecting.
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