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Angela Hewitt – piano
Hyperion CDA 67306

Italian Concerto in F major (BWV 971); Capriccio on the Departure of his Beloved Brother (BWV 992); Capriccio in E major (BWV 993); Four Duets (BWV802-5); French Overture (BWV 831); recorded October 2000; TPT 68'53"

Angela Hewitt’s latest Bach recital for Hyperion contrasts two whimsical teenage capriccios with the Four Duets, late abstracts published in 1739. These are framed by two very public works that make up the second part of the Clavierübung, the Concerto in the Italian Style and the Overture (Partita) in the French Style.

Hewitt opens with a bold performance of the Italian Concerto. I was immediately reminded of Brendel in Haydn – firmer than expected, but with plenty of wit and weight. The Presto finale is a riot, Hewitt revelling in the piano–forte contrasts, scales erupting like sky rockets. The first movement is perhaps a little solid, but the energy of the playing is never in doubt. As for the central Andante, which in lesser hands can simply sound like a succession of exquisite phrases, Hewitt not only plays with complete tonal finesse (faithfully captured by Hyperion’s excellent recording), but also total architectural control, the movement unfolding with organic inevitability. Hewitt’s sense of timing, allied to an ear for subtle coloration, gives the impression of a player with an eye fixed firmly on the double bar. The same qualities are also evident in the Sarabande from the French Overture: listen to the rubato in the fourth bar – not just an all-purpose espressivo on a beautiful line, but a way of conveying the qualities of Bach’s linear writing within the harmonic and structural parameters of the movement.

Make no mistake… this is Bach playing of the very highest calibre…

The various dance styles in the French Overture are well-characterised; a lively intelligence is at work here, delighting in bringing to the listener’s attention an interesting shape or ear-tickling texture (listen to the second Bourée or second Gavotte). The Passepieds sound a little less spontaneous, rather heavy-footed, in fact, and the Courante suffers from over-clipped articulation. Once or twice in the opening movement I felt Hewitt was over-articulating the structure at the expense of the musical flow (the piano at bar 77, for instance), a criticism that could also be levelled at the first movement of the Italian Concerto and, particularly, the second of the Duets, where the added commas really impede the progress of a relatively short movement.

The clipped articulation bothered me in the E major Capriccio too – Hewitt’s tone tends to harden when playing in this detached style, and the presentation of the fugue also struck me as altogether too aggressive for such a light-hearted work. The throwaway ending is delicious, however – featherlight and timed to perfection. The more familiar B-flat Capriccio (‘On the Departure of his Beloved Brother’) is given a fine reading; Hewitt’s decoration of the ‘Farewell’ fourth section is imposingly robust, and her realisation of the Adagissimo lament affecting. Just for one moment in this section I wondered if her acute ear for voicing had deserted her, when her chordal additions drew attention away from Bach’s own expressive, sobbing line.

As for the Four Duets, where Bach delights in swinging from key to key on the most slender thread of musical logic, Hewitt’s clarity gives the listener an entrée into the music’s somewhat wayward world, even if here her touch is slightly less even than on the rest of the disc and her articulation (particularly in No. 3) contrary to Bach’s indications.

Make no mistake, however; this is Bach playing of the very highest calibre, and relatively small imperfections serve only to remind us that whilst some might regard Bach as God, we are merely human. Angela Hewitt’s wide-ranging booklet notes, scholarly, informative and readable, complete a very desirable release.

David Jones  

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