Angela Hewitt's recordings of J S Bach's keyboard works are rapidly being seen as the definitive modern survey on the piano. Such is her natural affinity for Bach's style, her aliveness to his dancing rhythms and her sensitive use of the modern instrument, that she is the natural successor to a prestigious line of great Bach pianists. This disc includes works from the second and third volumes of Bach's Clavierübung (Keyboard Practice). In the Italian Concerto and French Overture Bach demonstrates not only his skill as translating to the keyboard two of the most popular orchestral genres of the time, but also his natural assimilation of their respective national characteristics, while remaining true to his own style. These are among his happiest inspirations. The Italian Concerto brims with joyous thematic invention and allusions to solo and orchestral contrasts, while the French Overture (often called a Partita) is a lively dance suite. The Four Duets, rather like more mature Two-part Inventions, and the youthful Capriccios complete a sunny and inspirational disc.
Until I heard Angela Hewitt's marvellous record, my two favourite versions of Bach's Italian Concerto, for very different reasons, were by Artur Schnabel
and Rosalyn Tureck
. I loved his muscularity and his frisky sense of celebration; I admired her marmoreal perfection. Hewitt combines the best of both worlds, and adds a host of other qualities into the bargain. Clarity and precision are pressed into the service of the most natural-sounding spontaneity; gorgeous cantabile with exuberantly muscular warmth. And after scaling the Bachian peaks for Hyperion--the Partitas
, the Goldbergs
, the 48
--she has now turned her attention to some of his most unjustly neglected works. As her own erudite liner notes make clear, she's under no illusions about Bach's programmatic little "Capriccio on the departure of his beloved brother", but she makes the best possible case for our taking the Four Duets--in effect, two-part inventions--and the French Overture in B minor very seriously indeed. It's bliss to find things both unfamiliar and magnificent, and doubly so when so finely played. Part of the alchemy lies in the way she induces her big Steinway to sound like a harpsichord. --Michael Church