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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

The Toccatas [68.55]
Toccata in C minor BWV 911 [12'12]
Toccata in G major BWV 916 [7'27]
Toccata in F sharp minor BWV 910 [10'22]
Toccata in E minor BWV 914 [6'49]
Toccata in D minor BWV 913 [11'42]
Toccata in G minor BWV 915 [9'00]
Toccata in D major BWV 912 [11'22]
Angela Hewitt, piano
Rec: January 2002, Henry Wood Hall, London.
HYPERION CDA67310 [68.55]


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Angela Hewitt approaches Bach’s toccatas, adding another brick to the edifice of her recording of his complete works for keyboard. Bach’s toccatas are among the most improvisatory of his keyboard works; written in stylus fantasticus, which, as Hewitt says in her notes, is "a very unrestrained and free way of composing, using dramatic and extravagant rhetorical gestures" combines "improvisatory passages … with stricter, more imitative sections." This style of composition can be heard in many of Bach’s preludes, but the difference in the toccatas is the combination of several different sections into a single work.

Hewitt’s recording is probably the freest of all her Bach recordings. She lets her heart rule the tempi, and seems much less strict than in some of her other discs. This is naturally the result of the toccata form, but she fits this music almost perfectly. Unfortunately, of all of Bach’s keyboard works, the toccatas are perhaps the least suited for the piano, or, at least, for the way pianists attempt to play them. Her dynamics sometimes conflict with the music - listen to the second section of the G major toccata, where she varies soft and loud playing in a sort of echo. The result sounds somewhat artificial, as do some other piano sections. But in the more lively fugal sections, Hewitt comes into the zone. The first fugue of the F sharp minor toccata comes alive with her staccato playing, and other fugues are also full of energy. The first fugue in the D minor toccata is also brilliant; Hewitt excels at playing fugues - one can certainly hope that she records Bach’s Art of Fugue one day…

But this recording is probably the least "Bachian" of all her Bach discs. She plays these works, at times, as if they were written two hundred years later, infusing them with a variety of feelings and tones that seem more appropriate to romantic piano music. Her unbridled opening section of the D minor toccata is one example of this, where she seems to be playing Liszt, not Bach. Yet this is not a drawback - Angela Hewitt is giving new energy to these works, and her recording certainly stands as one of the best on piano.

(A few notes about the recording - there is a great deal of reverberation on this disc, which, at times, is annoying and sounds artificial, especially when listening with headphones. There is also a very jarring moment at the end of the F sharp minor toccata, when Hewitt holds the final chord for only a brief moment, cutting of what should be natural sustain as the chord fades out.)

Another excellent recording by Angela Hewitt, who shows her mastery of Bach’s keyboard music, and especially gives a unique insight into what are some of his freest keyboard works.
Kirk McElhearn


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