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Jonathan Woolf
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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto in F major BWV971 (1735) [12:56]
Toccata in C minor BWV 911 (1710s)[11:39]
Four Duets BWV 802-805 [11:00]
English Suite No.6 in D minor BWV 811 (c.1722) [26:03]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
rec. Le Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, October 1985
Experience Classicsonline

Angela Hewitt’s extensive Bach series on Hyperion is the one by which her playing of the composer is best known. But she recorded Bach for DG in Switzerland in October 1985 and this disc restores her playing of the Italian Concerto, The Sixth English Suite, the Four Duets and the Toccata in C minor in performances that are justly weighted, technically controlled and eloquent.

The Italian Concerto is not especially fast. Tatiana Nikolayeva is faster still but the differences in weight and articulation are what sets the two players apart – the Russian inclining to a full, sonorous and rounded tone, the Canadian preferring a lighter, more precise and brighter sonority. It enables Hewitt’s passagework to register finely. Her slow movement is duly serious but not overwrought and her finale is vibrant yet clear, lightly pedalled and crisply accomplished. The Toccata shows her laying bare its structure without becoming at all didactic. She pursues things with questing intelligence, with clarity and with imaginative resources. Rhythmic control is strong, the contrapuntal writing effortlessly explored.

The Four Duets are similarly examples of Hewitt’s admirable way. Perhaps her finest playing comes in the A minor where she measures tonal weight and rubati exactly. She is above all a Bach player who at all times sounds natural and unforced. Her tempi sound acutely judged and she maintains lines with tremendous concentration and sensitivity. And so too in the D minor English Suite where she finds buoyancy and fantasy in alluring measure. She is not a Bach player rooted in, say, Nikolayeva’s cultural soil. Hewitt’s Bach is altogether cleaner, crisper, and lighter; one cannot for a moment imagine her, for example, taking the Busoni Chorale Prelude arrangements at Nikolayeva’s monumental tempos. Hewitt’s Bach is not monumental in that sense but its architectural monumentality is assuredly inherent in her playing, as anyone who has heard her Goldberg Variations – in concert, preferably – will attest.

If you have the Hyperion recordings, though, do you need these? CDA 67306 has the Italian Concerto and the Duets BWV805-805 so that most approximates to this disc. The English Suites are on two discs – CDEA 67451/2. Elegantly presented and comprehensive in the context of an extensive series these 1990s recordings are the finest examples of Hewitt’s Bach playing. But there is really very little to choose between them and this earlier DG release on a point-by-point basis. This DG has strong claims of its own.

Jonathan Woolf


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