Angela Hewitt’s reputation as a pianist is usually coupled with the  Bach, but her recent performance with the Calgary Philharmonic focuses on another of the 3B’s…

Aimez-vous Brahms? This question is the title of a novel by Francoise Sagan about the emotional tribulations of woman linked to a man she loves but who cannot be faithful. In the novel, the music of Brahms stands as a metaphor for inner emotional turmoil of the protagonist — for unresolved emotional swings from joy to inner anguish, from hope to despair. This same phrase could well be the mantra of the CPO current mini-festival devoted to the multi-faceted music of Johannes Brahms. For many music lovers, the question, Do you love Brahms?, implies the ability to engage different conflicting emotional spaces — love, pain, hope, despair, triumph — emotional spaces explored especially in the four symphonies by Brahms that form the heart of the festival.

The concert opened with a modern orchestration of Three Romances, originally for violin and piano, composed by Clara Schumann at approximately the time when Brahms first met Robert and Clara. These highly attractive miniatures were sympathetically brought to life in Diana Cohen’s graceful, elegant performance, a performance marked by a supple, attractive tone and well shaped melodic lines.

The Clara connection continued with Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, with the distinguished Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt as the soloist. Hewitt is now a pianist with an extensive discography, celebrated not only for her celebrated recordings of Bach, Debussy, and Ravel, but also of the standard romantic repertoire. To everything she plays, she brings her own individual approach, even if sometimes the approach steps slightly outside the mainstream.

This was certain the case in her original treatment of the Schumann concerto, one of the most played — perhaps over-played — works in the repertory. Substantially more measured in the tempo in the opening movement than is customary, Hewitt approached the concerto more as an orchestral work with solo obligato, with solo part treated as a member of the orchestra and not an externalized dramatic persona.

This was evident in the type of relationship that took place throughout the movement — and indeed the entire work — between the orchestra and Hewitt. After the striking opening, delivered very poetically, the doubled writing between the pianist’s left hand and the orchestral winds took an entirely new, distinctive character, quite different from the usual emotional rolling around typically encountered. While there was bravura aplenty when required, it was the interplay with the orchestra that was at the centre here, with conductor Roberto Minczuk and the orchestra clearly a willing and collaborative partner.

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