> Bach Inventions and Sinfonias:Hewitt CDA66746 [KM]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906
Fifteen Two-Part Inventions, BWV 772-786
Fifteen Three-Part Sinfonias, BWV 787-801
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903

Angela Hewitt, piano
Rec: January 1994, Beethovensaal, Hanover, Germany..
HYPERION CDA66746 [63.09]


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Angela Hewitt, who is recording all of Bach’s keyboard works on piano, has proven to be one of the most inspired interpreters of his music. This set features the Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Sinfonias (on Inventions), as well as two fantasias, which are among some of Bach’s finest works for keyboard.

Hewitt has shown, in all of her Bach recordings, that she has a rare capacity to get to the heart of the music. She plays Bach intuitively, yet in her own inimitable style, and, while not everyone may appreciate her approach, she is always interesting and puts a great deal of feeling into her recordings. Yet, here, a different facet of Hewitt’s style can be heard.

The Inventions and Sinfonias are "little" works; written originally for his son Wilhelm Friedemann, to teach him the basics of phrasing, articulation, touch, rhythm and fingering, as well as two-hand independence. These short pieces are often overlooked by pianists and harpsichordists, and are considered minor works. Short pieces, most ranging from less than one minute to under two minutes (there are only three exceptions, all among the Sinfonias), these are tiny jewels that show some of the basic techniques that Bach used when writing for the keyboard, yet set them in melodic masterpieces.

While originally written for harpsichord or clavichord, like all of Bach’s keyboard works, I feel these are among those that work best on piano. Their percussive nature stands out better on the piano, and their rhythmic effects seem to come through more clearly.

To stray for a moment, I like ice cream very much. Living in France, where artisanal ice cream can still be found, I love to go to little glaciers and try their homemade ice cream (with the awareness that nothing can better the ice cream from Berthillon in Paris). When I go to a new ice cream shop, I always try the vanilla first. For what could be more basic than vanilla ice cream? It is the primordial flavour, and, if it is not good, then other flavours are usually not good either. Well, with Bach’s keyboard music, I feel the same way. Bach’s vanilla is the Inventions and Sinfonias, and if a performer does not play these well, it is not a good sign for the rest.

Listening to Hewitt’s recording of these works, it is clear that one should go on and listen to the rest. Unlike many recordings of these works, she treats them as real music, not as exercises. From the very first invention, her flowing rhythm takes control of the piece and leads in through its subtle, yet savant counterpoint. Her tempos are rapid without being fast, and her phrasing always sounds just. The 4th Invention in D minor shows a perfect balance between the two parts, and well-constructed dynamics. The slower Inventions, such as no. 6 in E major, no. 9 in F minor and no. 11 in G minor all show that she is in perfect control of the delicate dynamics of her instrument, and, fortunately, she uses the sustaining pedal with great parsimony, avoiding the muddy sound that it would bring to these pieces.

The Three-Part Sinfonias, or Inventions, feature the same quality of playing. The difference here is that these pieces have an additional melody line in them, making them slightly more complex. Some of them are trios, others fugues, but all of them feature the same style of contrapuntal melodies as the two-part inventions, yet go just a bit further. In Sinfonia no. 2, with its delicate ornamentation, Hewitt plays effortlessly, as the music flows on perfectly. The E flat major Sinfonia, no. 5, with its riffs of tinkling notes sounds lovely, though here the piano tends to muddy the sound just a bit in the more complex parts of the piece. The long F minor Sinfonia (at 3.57, the longest piece in the set, and the only one over 3 minutes), is, as Hewitt points out in her notes, "the emotional high point, with its bleak harmonies and agonizing chromaticisms". This piece sounds as though it does not belong in this set; its form and rhythm are very different from the rest. Hewitt plays this as a masterpiece, approaching the solemnity of the final fugue of Bach’s Art of Fugue, or some of the profoundest pieces in the Well-Tempered Clavier.

This recording also includes two Fantasias - the C minor fantasia and the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue. The former is a forceful work, the latter a brilliant display of virtuosity and quirky chromaticism. Hewitt shines in both of these pieces, as on the rest of the recording.

You would be hard pressed to find a better piano recording of the Inventions and Sinfonias, and with the two Fantasias thrown in, this set is as close to perfect as they come.


Kirk McElhearn


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