Angela Hewitt never ceases to amaze us.

Her 2012 release of Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto, followed closely by an album of solo piano music by Claude Debussy, may have left the impression that her ambitious J.S. Bach project for Hyperion Records had come to an end. She's done it all, and gloriously, too: Goldberg Variations, French suites, English suites, Italian concerto, partitas, inventions, toccatas, keyboard concertos, both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier (twice).

Been there, done that, as the saying goes.

But no. Thankfully, Hewitt's commitment to Bach's music endures. For her next Hyperion Records release, she has teamed up with Italian flutist Andrea Oliva for an album of flute sonatas by Bach. For fans who tend to think of Hewitt as a solo performer, this is an opportunity to hear her apply her intelligence and magical touch to chamber music.

CBC Music is giving you the opportunity to stream two of the six sonatas presented on Hewitt and Oliva's album in advance of its Jan. 28 release:

Note: The album stream is no loner available. To preview and download it, go to iTunes.

We reached Hewitt by email and asked her about this latest instalment in her Bach project.

Your fans think of you primarily as a solo performer. Tell us about Angela Hewitt, the chamber musician.

I have always done a lot of chamber music, beginning from when I played the violin and recorder as a child with my parents accompanying me. In fact I think I played the E-flat major Bach Flute Sonata first on the recorder. As a student at the University of Ottawa, I did a huge amount of “accompanying” (hardly the word when the pianist has one million notes for every hundred the “soloist” plays!), especially of wind instruments (pupils of members of Ottawa’s NAC Orchestra).

Then when I lived in Paris in the early 1980s, I was the pianist of the Trio de France. When I moved to London in 1985, I also did a lot, but then gradually had to let it go in order to concentrate on the recording of the complete solo works of Bach! Now most of my chamber music is done at my Trasimeno Music Festival in Italy in the summer.

Your partner in this project, flutist Andrea Oliva, may be a new name to some. What was it like working with him?

I first met Andrea in 2008 when he came to my festival in Umbria to perform with me in Bach’s Triple Concerto. I was very impressed with his wide variety of colours (on the flute!), his secure technique and his great musicianship. I had never heard the flute sound like that before! We get along extremely well. He makes the instrument sing, which is so important.

There's a long tradition of playing Bach's solo keyboard music on piano. Not so the chamber music. Do you feel like you're wading into murky waters here, or is this just an extension of what you have been doing all along?

It’s just an extension of what I’ve always done. With the flute sonatas, the question of balance is very important, but Andrea is of course playing a modern flute and so why not a modern piano? I’ve already done all the gamba sonatas (with cello) and am working my way through the violin sonatas as well. They are all wonderful pieces, and it would be a mistake for me not to get to know them.

Oliva and Hewitt take a bow following a performance of flute sonatas by Bach. (Lorenzo Dogana).

What musical riches can listeners unfamiliar with these sonatas expect to discover?

Of the six sonatas on the disc, three are for sure by J.S. Bach, and three are doubtful — although two of those sound so good to me that I have a hard time believing they are not by Bach!

The C major Sonata might have been written by one of his sons with a bit of help from papa. In three of them, the piano is an equal partner with the flute — my right hand playing a second melodic line, and the left hand providing harmonic support. In the others, I must play the continuo part — meaning that I have to fill in everything above the bass notes (Bach left symbols for this, but that’s all). That was a challenge in itself — deciding what to play! But I had fun with it in the end. There are some gorgeous movements. The greatest sonata is the big B minor one.

Following the enormous success of your recent Schumann Piano Concerto recording and your long-awaited album of music by Debussy, what can your fans look forward to in the year ahead?

I have already recorded a second volume of Mozart piano concertos (with the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova conducted by Hannu Lintu) that will be released in May of this year. There will be two other solo releases as well: one of the music of Gabriel Fauré, and another with three Beethoven sonatas (Op. 22, Op. 31/3, and Op. 101). That’s the fourth volume in my Beethoven cycle.


Download Hewitt and Oliva's album of Bach's flute sonatas
Top 5 classical albums of 2012
Watch Angela Hewitt perform at Koerner Hall


posted by Robert Rowat on Jan 21, 2013