Serene Mozart from pianist Angela Hewitt

By Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
January 27, 2019

Even within Mozart’s vast catalog of compositions, the piano concertos stand out.

For Mozart not only was a keyboard virtuoso but wrote for the instrument – and accompanying orchestral forces – with heightened poetry and grace.

The last of his 27 piano concertos epitomizes these characteristics and carries an additional emotional undertow, if only because we know Mozart unveiled it just months before his death, in 1791. Whether Mozart considered the work a valedictory will remain forever open to debate, but certainly a pensive quality colored the performance that pianist Angela Hewitt and Music of the Baroque gave Saturday evening at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

With conductor Jane Glover, the ensemble’s music director, at the helm, listeners heard a serenely lyrical, reflective performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595. Though some movements proved slightly more persuasive than others, there was no question that a first-rate Mozartean was at the piano, with an uncommonly empathetic conductor responding sensitively to her work.

From the outset, Glover insisted that the orchestral lines sing forth, a seemingly endless flow of melody defining her vision of the first movement. Pianist Hewitt concurred, bringing expressive shape to even rapid-fire arpeggiated figures. Hewitt’s tone changed constantly to express the ever-shifting character of the music, the pianist sometimes moving from bright to dusky timbres at the drop of a sixteenth note. In minor-key passages, she illuminated the depth and darkness of late Mozart.

One had to marvel at the musical intimacy Hewitt and Glover conveyed in the slow middle movement. The way the pianist consistently matched tone with individual instrumentalists, and vice versa, spoke to the high polish of this performance and the musicians’ deep respect for this concerto. This was Mozart orchestral playing conceived as chamber music, a thoroughly fitting choice for a larghetto movement.

Hewitt and Glover may have caught some in the audience by surprise with the notably deliberate, measured tempo they chose for the finale. For at least one listener, it sounded self-consciously, conspicuously slow. And yet there was no denying the gravitas this brought to the movement, the sorrow-beneath-a-smile sense one draws from some of Mozart’s autumnal works, such as his Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter.”

Pianist and conductor clearly were making a point here, regarding the master’s last piano concerto as a kind of farewell and clinging to that message. Regardless of whether one was thoroughly persuaded, the beauty of Hewitt’s sound and the delicacy of Glover’s orchestral accompaniment spoke to the high craft of the work and the value the musicians placed on every passing note.

By concerto’s end, one of the composer’s most imposing late-period pieces indisputably had been given an interpretation as serious and weighty as it deserves.

Glover opened the all-Mozart concert with the Serenade No. 10 in B-flat Major, K. 361 (“Gran Partita”). As always, she made lucidly clear the architectural underpinnings of a vast, multi-movement work, achieving her most profoundly subtle statements in the adagio movement, which took listeners to an otherworldly realm that is Mozart’s alone.

The program repeats at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; $27-$78; 312-551-1414 or