Notes and Editorial Reviews
With this release, Angela Hewitt’s survey of the keyboard works of Bach comes to a close. This cycle—much lauded on both sides of the Atlantic—has focused upon the unquestioned masterpieces of Bach’s keyboard output (the “Goldberg” Variations, the English and French suites, and the partitas), some of the lesser known portions of his œuvre (the capriccios, the toccatas, and a sonata after the Dutch composer Reincken), and a thoroughly delightful CD of keyboard arrangements by the likes of Wilhelm Kempff, Harold Bauer, Myra Hess, Harriet Cohen, and Angela Hewitt.
The final release lays no claim to holding what remains of Bach’s keyboard music. Rather it is simply an attempt by Ms. Hewitt to collate “a programme of separate
pieces from different periods in Bach’s life . . . I believe these to be the best of the rest. Arranged as they are on this CD, they also show Bach’s great variety of form, style, influence, and scope.” Indeed they do, via a cornucopia of styles, treatments, and techniques that result in a microcosm of Bach’s undeniable genius. Space does not allow a blow-by-blow here, but I will elaborate briefly upon my favorites.
The most impressive work is the so-called Aria variata, BWV 989, which has been pegged to the first decade of the 18th century. It is separated from the Aria with Diverse Variations (known by posterity as the “Goldberg” Variations) by at least 15 years, since the Goldberg theme appears in Anna Magdalena’s notebook of 1725. There are, however, similarities between the two. The opening aria of both is repeated at the end, but in the case of “Goldberg,” it is another variation. Further, like the “Goldberg,” the Aria variata cycle is based upon the harmonic structure of the theme and not the melodic line. Was Bach thinking of the former when he wrote the latter? According to Hewitt, the early Fantasia and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 904, “seems like an organ piece at times. It is not hard to imagine the descending bass of the opening . . . doubled by the pedals, giving it more gravity and weight. . . .” Here Bach creates an eight-minute tour de force that concludes with a double fugue on two dissimilar subjects, and offering an unworkable situation. It might have been to anyone else, but to Bach the contrast provided just the challenge the young composer/performer needed to display his wares. I can’t end this piece without mentioning the pair of chorale preludes, Jesu, mein Zuversicht, BWV 728, and Wer nur lieben Gott lässt walten, BWV691. They are pure genius disguised in the form of simplicity and are lifted from the notebooks of Anna Magdalena and Wilhelm Friedemann. They feature a tripartite texture with a two-part accompaniment in the left hand and a decorated version of the melody in the right.
Hewitt is an amazing musical communicator, seeking and finding details in these works that would likely elude other performers. Listen to the way in which she brings out the inner voices, tapers phrases, or ornaments the repeats without ever obfuscating the original line or giving in to excess for the sake of period convention. It is simply an exquisite recording, first note to last. Hewitt has again provided insightful annotations, which are void of any stuffiness or academics and—via their informality—leave the listener with the impression that she is in the room introducing each work and performing it just for you.
The statuesque, beautiful, and brilliantly gifted Angela Hewitt has now joined the ranks of the greatest interpreters of Bach’s keyboard music, and the effortless and natural readings on this and the other CDs in her cycle for Hyperion unquestionably number among the finest available. After discussion, debate—call it what you will—Angela Hewitt’s recordings may be deemed unquestionably definitive, and that would suit this writer just fine.
Michael Carter, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Fugue in A minor, BWV 944 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Angela Hewitt (Piano)
Written: ?Weimar, Germany
Partita in A major, BWV 832 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Angela Hewitt (Piano)
Written: Weimar, Germany
Notes: Composition written: Weimar, Germany (1708 - 1714).
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