By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic
Music of the Baroque hosted a popular and talented pianist this past weekend when it acquired the services of Angela Hewitt for an all-Mozart program at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. The Canadian keyboardist, particularly known for her interpretations of J.S. Bach, took on Mozart’s final piano concerto in a performance full of gleaming detail and plenty of excitement.
The Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major had its premiere less than a year before Mozart died. This was the same period that saw the completion of “The Magic Flute” and work on the “Requiem,” the latter of which was incomplete at the time of Mozart’s death.
This piano concerto is buoyant and oftentimes playful, yet some analysts have found it to contain moments of melancholy, even sadness. Hewitt herself sees something of this in the concluding Allegro movement, and wonders if the composer somehow sensed his own death was to come in the months ahead.
This view, based on passing moments in the concerto, perhaps added to the drama of Hewitt’s thoughtful performance. She played with immense technical skill, with rapid passages given both nimble and feathery-light treatment, and she added color and nuance at every turn.
Jane Glover, music director of Music of the Baroque, conducted with sure footing and an eye to giving the orchestra a solidly supportive role when the piano holds the reins, but also to vibrant and powerful sound when the orchestra has lead voice.
The opening Allegro saw the violins begin with soft whispers before Hewitt entered with confidence and poise. Her playing was both frisky and polished, and the big moments gleamed and sparkled almost as much as the silver sequin gown the pianist wore. Hewitt grabbed the audience’s attention from the very beginning and her keyboard work was spellbinding. Adding to the pleasure of the performance was the playful sound of the winds, and the clearly rendered polyphony in the orchestra.
Hewitt began the central movement with gentle playing characterized by clean lines and a charming, unassuming approach. Her ornaments added dazzle and her delicate touch contributed finesse.
The final movement saw the pianist take a deliberate approach that was both fluid and clear. Her long and winding runs were spectacular and the orchestra was full of vim. The music grew in intensity until the exciting conclusion, with big applause granted to the performers after it all ended. One hopes this first appearance by Hewitt with Music of the Baroque will not be her last.
The concert opened with Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 in B-flat Major, known as the Gran Partita. It is scored for a baker’s dozen of performers: pairs of oboes, clarinets, basset horns (a member of the clarinet family), and bassoons plus four horns and one double bass. Sometimes the double bass is replaced by a contrabassoon, but this performance proved how a single string can add depth and character to the sound.
Glover marshaled her forces well, with the first of the seven movements full of kittenish joy and boisterous good fun. The contrast with the more reserved sections was pleasing.
The two Menuetto movements were elegant with particularly notable work by the clarinets and oboes together as well as the dignity contributed by the horns.
The famous Adagio was perhaps the weakest part of the performance, sometimes having a ponderous and even muddy quality. But the ensemble sprang back to form for the Romance, which had a shimmering quality.
Throughout, the musicians seemed adept at finding the bounce and lilt of the music. The bassoons and basset horns offered vigorous and engaging rapid lines under the higher instruments, creating splendid texture with a fine balance. The double bass added good underlying support and except for a couple of small flubs, the horns were sassy and bright sounding.
The final movement put Mozart’s amiability on display and the propulsive music charged to the exciting conclusion.
There is more in store from Music of the Baroque this season. English conductor Harry Bicket will conduct “The Grand Tour” March 3 and 6 featuring the music of Handel, Corelli, Vivaldi, Rameau, and more. “Hot Coffee” will feature the music of Bach and Haydn on March 31 and April 1 and will showcase soprano Joelle Harvey, tenor Josh Lovell, and baritone Neal Davies. The final concert of the season takes play May 12 and 13 in a program entitled “Pulpit and Playhouse: Bach, Handel, Purcell.”
For more information on venues, times, and program details, visit baroque.org.