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Bach: The Art of Fugue / Hewitt

Bach / Hewitt
Release Date: 10/14/2014 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67980   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Angela Hewitt
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


In his advertisement for the publication of The Art of Fugue, cited in the booklet notes to this excellent new release, C.P.E. Bach noted that “all of the parts are singable throughout,” an assertion that might startle some who regard the work as the acme of abstract intellectuality in music. But “singability” is perhaps that outstanding quality of Angela Hewitt’s interpretation. On the whole, her tempos tend to be a bit slower than we often hear, certainly from artists such as Charles Rosen, whose Sony recording remains the benchmark, or the more recent Zhu Xiao-Mei (Accentus), but the music never drags.

Compare Hewitt to Rosen, for example, in one of the fugues usually taken
Read more swiftly, the double fugue in invertible counterpoint at the twelfth (Contrapunctus IX), and you will hear that although Rosen is quicker and more “instrumental,” Hewitt’s own brand of liveliness has a natural pulse and energy all its own. The music always sings or, in the case of such pieces as the Contrapunctus VI “in the French style,” dances. The fact is that densely contrapuntal music such as this lives or dies on the clarity and balance of its independent lines, and its energy comes from within, as it were, in the way that they jostle against each other. Thus, the slithery chromatic harmonies of Contrapunctus 11 impel the music forward as Hewitt’s smooth articulation and subtle attention to Bach’s voice-leading permit the music to glide along elegantly, like a skater over ice.

Hewitt plays the fugues in numerical order until the two mirror fugues, Nos. XII and XIII. Then come the various canons, and finally the incomplete Contrapunctus XIV followed by the chorale Vor deinen Thron tret ich Hiermit. It’s a pity that Hewitt did not choose one of the completions of this last fugue, Tovey’s especially. A certain mystique hovers over all incomplete works of the great composers, but that fact is that Bach would necessarily have figured out the details of how his various melodies would combine as a prerequisite to beginning work, and the number of ways that could happen is necessarily limited within his aesthetic system. So a stylistically apt conjectural completion such as Tovey’s is in fact quite likely to be close to what Bach might have done, and probably did do, even if we can never be absolutely sure.

This is, in any case, a matter of personal preference and Hewitt is certainly entitled to draw her own conclusions. It only remains to be said that she is gorgeously recorded, and that she provides thoughtful, intelligent, thorough, and very readable notes that provide a good bit of pleasure all by themselves. In a work that offers so much freedom to the performer regarding its realization there can never be a “best” recording, but this must certainly be ranked as one of them on the basis of its distinctive and always supremely musical qualities.

– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Angela Hewitt (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1745-1750; Leipzig, Germany 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 comments, not a review November 25, 2015 By William S. (Renton, WA) See All My Reviews "These are comments about the associated professional review. Arkiv should feel free to delete them. My standard for this work is William Malloch's orchestration on Sheffield Lab. The Contrapunctus XIV is intentionally incomplete. Perhaps Bach is suggesting that God's work is infinite (unending), and never "complete". The legend that Bach died before completing Contrapunctus XIV is simply untrue. It ends with one of the themes spelling out B-flat A C H. What an amazing coincidence -- not!" Report Abuse
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