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Bach Arrangements Angela Hewitt piano Wigmore Hall 30 December 2001 (PGW)


Bach, J S Toccata in D BWV912 Toccata in G minor BWV915  

Bach/Kempff Sinfonia in D; Siciliano in G minor; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland; Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme


Bach/Berners In dulci jubilo; Bach/Howells O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde gross


Bach/D'Albert Passacaglia in C minor BWV582






The last Wigmore Hall recital of 2001 was a sold out Sunday Morning Coffee Concert. Angela Hewitt, the leading Bach specialist of today's pianists, had a lengthy queue afterwards for Holy Ink (the CD signing ritual). Purchasers of her new CD, which includes all the fascinating arrangements in this programme, should not be disappointed.

Bach played on the piano has been popular through several generations, and continues to be so with good reason during the relatively new 'authentic' era; the possibilities for expressive dynamic shading and colouring with pedal are hard to relinquish.

Angela Hewitt enlivens every piece she plays; seen live her palpable enjoyment is a tonic and with her beauty and poise she has the audience in the palm of her hand, delaying applause with ease to achieve continuity within groups. The two Toccatas were given 'straight' and the rest of the programme sampled arrangements of famous pianists and composers of the past, providing a historical perspective of changing tastes. No-one listening to Angela Hewitt was inclined to carp at their romanticism.

Composer-pianists, notably Liszt & Ferruccio Busoni, published many Bach transcriptions and inspired Wilhelm Kempff, an organist before he was a pianist. D'Albert's version of the Passacaglia had some grandiose climaxes which exceeded my threshold of acceptability, but those of Wilhelm Kempff (who did not eschew swell crescendi and diminuendi effects) were a delight, as were two by Berners and Howells from A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen.

Hyperion's CD67309 brings together more examples of the arrangements by English composers collected by Harriet Cohen, with a few of Angela Hewitt's own. An affectionate reading of the Myra Hess Jesu, joy of man's desiring, immensely popular during the War, will remind many of us of our struggles to play it when young, wishing we had three hands. The taxing d'Albert Passacaglia is wholly convincing as her climax. However, the 70 min CD, mainly of chorale preludes, is less satisfying taken as a whole than Angela Hewitt's Wigmore Hall programme and best not played straight through. Better to recreate a programme for home listening, like the one listed above, by combining tracks from one of Angela Hewitt's other acclaimed Hyperion CDs.

Although inclined to having become type-cast, Angela Hewitt is not a narrow specialist and I relish the prospect of her Sonatine and the Tombeau de Couperin in her recording of the complete solo works of Ravel, to be released by Hyperion this year.

Peter Grahame Woolf




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