Garbled witness statement …
Ms.M. I wish I had N's power over words but I don't, so pray excuse the following:
Hokay … Deep breath.
Just home. Rather large tumbler of Islay malt.
Here goes …
Ego, compos mentis (well kinda) have just witnessed something that's going to hit the world of classical music like an H bomb.
D'you remember that Glenn Gould moment that Bach had in the fifties? Suddenly the world woke up and saw the light?
Murray Perahia took the ball and ran with it and then came Angela Hewitt; the world's greatest interpreter of Bach's keyboard music?
Well this evening I was sitting not ten feet from Angela Hewitt when she did for Beethoven what Glenn Gould did for Bach.
I mean it.
Let's set the scene:
What was always going to be an exciting evening: The incomparable Britten Sinfonia (the best chamber orchestra on the planet bar none and I'll kick the shit out of anyone who argues with me) launch their season with a programme of Wagner, Sibelius and Beethoven, featuring Angela Hewitt on piano.
So far, so wonderful.
First up: the pre-show chat. Angela talks us through the two Beethoven pieces she'll be playing: the youthful and exuberant second piano concerto (actually the first he wrote) and the majestic pinnacle of the fourth. She discusses Czerny's notes on how Beethoven taught him and how Beethoven actually played and developed the pieces. How most players begin the fourth with a flat G-major chord, while Czerny relates that Beethoven played it as an arpeggio, echoing his interpretation of the piece as Orpheus strumming his lyre in preparation for the third movement's struggle to calm the Furies and rescue Eurydice.
She fesses up that - after twenty-three years of playing the fourth with other conductors - tonight is her debut conducting Beethoven from the piano and she's nervous as hell.
Then she tells us how having had to learn and understand the parts for the whole orchestra has transformed her awareness of the piece, in much the same way as her two glorious accounts of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (one after years of study and interpretation; the next after having toured the pieces for two years solid) revealed truths that nobody had previously dreamed of.
Angela was lucky enough to begin her concert career just when the 'authentic period instrument' movement exploded on the music scene. The slushily over-romantic interpreters of Beethoven and Mozart were elbowed aside by the new puritans, but this had the knock-on effect of making the music leaden and dull. In the decades since, musicians and historians have worked wonders in bringing us closer to Beethoven's true meaning and I (and many others) felt that Paul Lewis had fulfilled old Ludwig's dreams with his recent recording cycles.
Then this evening happened.
It started innocently enough. The Sinfonia hit the stage; as ever, frighteningly youthful and this evening led by the precocious child, Thomas Gould (the Guardian rightly calls him "staggeringly virtuosic"); they launch into the only piece Wagner ever wrote that can truthfully be called lovely: the Siegfried Idyll.
And they are perfect. I wouldn't have expected anything else. If anyone's going to make Wagner move me to tears it's going to be the Britten Sinfonia and they didn't disappoint.
Then some jigging of chairs as Angela's glorious Fazioli is wheeled centre stage and its wheels locked. They've removed the first row of seats this evening, to fit the orchestra on stage, so my usual third row; just left of centre seat is now second row and I can see every expression on Angela's face as she plays.
Oh, before that: I hope you're reading this, Robyn. You can tell your asshat at the Philharmonic who moaned at you for playing in trousers a few weeks back that the second violin with the Britten Sinfonia (the fabulously named Beatrix Lovejoy) played this evening in open-toed black stilettos, slit-bottomed, calf-length tight capris and a Nehru-collared blouse with see-through sleeves. Wear what you like and fuck'em.
Anyhoo … Back to the action:
Angela Hewitt hits the stage in (during the pre-show chat she wore - somewhat disarmingly - boots, black tights, a miniskirt and a frumpy cardie) a purple peacock gown that must have a thousand micro-pleats around the hem, and deep turquoise, kitten heeled, fuck-me shoes. Whooee! Apologies for all the fashion stuff but my gay gene must be kicking in.
Beethoven's second piano concerto is - like Chopin's first - his "Here I am, world! Fuck you: I'm FANTASTIC" teenage show-off piece-de-resistance. Where most recordings I have of it start with a dull blast from the orchestra, the Britten Sinfonia under Angela Hewitt are as refreshing as a bucket of iced water in the face on a hot day. They spring into the piece like new-born lambs and bring it to life as if it's the first time I ever heard it.
When the piano comes in it is a revelation. I offer huge apologies to all the musicians who have gone before, but frankly: what the hell were you doing? THIS is how to do it! THIS is the teenage Beethoven waving his cock in the air and yelling "Come and get me, laydeez!"
It's genuinely astonishing! Sprightly like never before, yet muscular where it matters, and Angela's coquettish eyebrows and unconscious grins of pure delight only enhance the experience.
People say it's Beethoven's "Mozartian" piece, but while the orchestration is certainly reminiscent of Mozart, the piano is pure Beethoven, filled with the unbounded joy of a staggering virtuoso who has been given one of those new-fangled fortepianos to play with and has shown the world just what it can do. It reminds me of Chopin's first in that both pieces show what happens when teenaged boys become the best musicians on the planet. No restraint. Balls to the wall brag and bluster and utterly magnificent.
It is a new world being born.
Then the cadenza … After the airy delights of spring, Angela hits us in the face with Beethoven's 1806 cadenza; the last of the three he was know to have written. I've never heard it played with such venom. Suddenly, in the midst of little Ludwig's boyhood fantasia we get Beethoven at the height of his powers, yelling at his younger self that THIS is how a piano should be played! Holy fuck!
Whew! The interval comes and we know we have been treated to something special. What we don't know is that the second half will blow all that out of the water.
In the meantime, I'll add this little piece of advice: always order your interval drinkies before the concert; that way, you can take your time getting to the foyer and they'll be waiting there for you without having to queue. I mosey into the foyer late and simply pick up my cognac from its reserved spot. Yum.
Hi to the lovely couple who chatted to me all through the break.
Right … The second half.
Back to the Britten Sinfonia. This time whetting our appetite with a piece I've only heard a few times: the "Scene With Cranes" from Sibelius' music for the somewhat macabre play "Kuolema".
Once again I am moved to tears. Once again everybody gets the chance to cough themselves silly while the piano is wheeled back to centre stage. Once again the purple peacock dress floats from the wings to rapturous applause.
Angela Hewitt has taken Bach's keyboard music to places nobody ever dreamed. She has played Beethoven's fourth piano concerto constantly on stage for twenty-three years. This year, however, she has to conduct it, too. She has had to re-learn the piece from scratch, studying and understanding every note that every member of the orchestra plays. The rehearsals have been the most vigorous of her career, leaving her aching from head to toe. She has re-evaluated Beethoven's greatest piano work from the ground up.
And now she lets it loose upon the world.
All I'll say is that Angela's touring this for the season (tonight was her debut) and the finale in London will be live on Radio 3. If you love Beethoven, listen in because it's going to change your life. Really!
I had to physically stop myself from crying out loud more times than I can recall. The finale had me biting my lip so hard I've got a smegging blister on it now from trying to stop myself screaming my joy to the rafters.
In the year that I was born, Glenn Gould woke the world up to Bach. This evening, Angela Hewitt gave Beethoven his Glenn Gould moment. This is Beethoven, Year One. Brace yourselves. Things are going to get amazing.