Toronto Symphony Orchestra with Angela Hewitt at Roy Thomson Hall, Thursday, Feb. 17. 2022. (Two repeats shows, Saturday, Feb. 19)
Snowy mid-February is not a bad time for an upbeat program performed accordingly. Angela Hewitt and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra certainly delivered Thursday night at Roy Thomson Hall, though not with altogether uniform results.
The 75-minute straight-through concert (the second of four) featured the UK-based Canadian as both soloist and “leader” – the preferred euphemism when the artist in question remains seated and all the music is collaborative. The Steinway was positioned at a slight angle, giving the audience a fuller-than-usual view of the keyboard, and a wonderful perspective on Hewitt’s swan-like arms as she led the tutti passages of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 K. 414. This pianist is not known as a double-duty performer, but her fluid motions drew warm and nuanced sounds from the modest squad of 30. She even managed in the finale to gesture with her left hand while effortlessly playing a trill with the right.
Not that I should wish Hewitt to give up her day job. Her tone was pearly and her phrasing elegant. Balance with the orchestra was impeccable. The chorale-like theme of the Andante offered an illustration of how professional artistry can make a difference even in the most technically accessible music.
Next came Wedding Cake Op. 76, a playful six-minute waltz by Saint-Saëns for piano and strings. Sparkle and bravura were both abundant. Gerald Finzi’s Eclogue Op. 10also for piano and strings, was a none-too-short exercise in English pastoral poetry as recited on a distinctly cloudy day.
Then we heard Bach’s Concerto No. 2 in E major BWV 1053 – the presumed highlight of the program, given the fame Hewitt has enjoyed as an interpreter of the great JS since winning the 1985 International Bach Piano Competition on this very stage. Alas, the performance was understated and lacking in punctuation. Not Glenn Gould-y enough? That would be a way of putting it. One problem, possibly, was the continuous nature of keyboard writing, which left Hewitt with few opportunities to turn and engage the orchestra.
There was enough applause to justify a solo encore: Liszt’s popular arrangement of Widmung, a song written by Schumann for Clara, and thus suited, as Hewitt explained in her spoken remarks, to a week that included Valentine’s Day. Very well. We can take playing of this flair and conviction anytime.
The crowd was small; Ontario’s sudden relaxation of capacity restrictions has arrived too late to make much difference at the box office. Masks are still mandatory, and water fountains are still dry. Turn up well hydrated for one of the two repeat performances on Saturday.
Get the daily arts news straight to your inbox.