This delightful disc offers a selection from the wealth of piano transcriptions of Bach's music. The Bach revival that gathered momentum during the nineteenth century created a climate for many composer-pianists to interpret his works through their own piano transcriptions, whether of chorale preludes, organ works or other instrumental music. Much of Bach's music was made domestically available via such arrangements (and the tradition continued well into the twentieth century, even after Bach originals were well known). Indeed, the practice of such transcriptions was widely used by Bach himself, who freely adapted his own and others' music for different instrumental settings. One of today's finest Bach pianists, Angela Hewitt concentrates primarily on those arrangements of Bach that keep pianistic elaboration and virtuosity in proportion: whatever instrument his music is played on, Bach should still sound like Bach. Eugen d'Albert's magnificent transcription of the C minor Passacaglia and Fugue for organ, BWV582, is included, as are five beautiful transcriptions by Wilhelm Kempff, and a number of arrangements by English composers that were included in A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen (a collection compiled for the pianist Harriet Cohen, who knew many English composers of the early twentieth century). Angela Hewitt also includes three transcriptions of her own. A fascinating companion to Angela Hewitt's acclaimed Bach recordings for Hyperion, this ravishing disc will appeal to lovers of Bach as much as connoisseurs of the piano.
Since Bach constantly reworked his own music, it's always been seen as fair game that others should do so too. Angela Hewitt's disc of Bach arrangements thus stands in a noble tradition, as well as carrying it boldly on into the future. But if three of these 17 short pieces are Hewitt's own recompositions, others are welcome discoveries from the near-forgotten past. None of Busoni's majestic arrangements is here, but instead we find fascinating pieces by a plethora of English composers including Lord Berbers, Herbert Howells and William Walton. Hewitt's own liner notes are a mine of information--some of it being comic, much of it highly illuminating--as well as providing a guide to her own keyboard philosophy. And her playing is as superb as we now expect: in D'Albert's version of Bach's stupendous Passacaglia in C Minor, she somehow manages to make the piano sound like a large organ echoing through a church. In other modes she can be plangent, frisky, hesitant or imbued with the most gorgeous cantabile: she seems to have a hotline to the religious fervour Bach wanted to evince. This disc may be built up out of a collection of favourite encores, but in sum it's a feast. --Michael Church