35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This review is from: Bach: English Suites (Audio CD)
What makes Angela Hewitt one of the most consistently stylish performers of Bach on the piano? On the one hand there is the way she exploits the resources of the modern piano. Even among today's excellent Bach pianists (Schiff, Perahia and Anderszewski spring to mind), Hewitt has developed an individual sound: consider her buoyant, almost springy touch; her bright sound; her neat articulation; her judicious application of sustaining pedal; and her use of the dynamic extremes of the piano. But one of the strengths of Hewitt's playing on the other hand is her exceptional grasp of historical style. For Glenn Gould, a self-proclaimed admirer of Nietzsche, Bach's keyboard writing was contrapuntal material to be given shape by the will (and in Gould's case, some would say whim) of the interpreter. Hewitt by contrast understands the suites as the product of Bach's unique engagement with the styles of the period. Particularly important is the influence of the 'French' style for the pieces; there is little, as her excellent liner notes observe, that is 'English' about these pieces. So even the courantes (played, Hewitt notes, in the manner of a 'romp' by most pianists) are given a charming and elegant, courtly treatment, and are taken at a slower pace than is often heard. Though admittedly one may miss some of the drive which Schiff or Perahia bring to these, Hewitt is probably right and her playing wholly engaging. There are Italian echoes too, which Hewitt brings out in her colourful playing of the concerto-like opening of no. 3, for example; and, lastly, no shortage of Teutonic vigour, too (the opening of no. 6 is awesomely played). It's this attention to style and detail which makes for a striking and individual recording of the English suites, which must count as one of the best since Perhaia and Schiff. To think of Hewitt simply as a tasteful player (which she is) doesn't do justice to the combination of elan and idiom she brings to much of this music. A gripe, however, is the quality of the sound. Suites no 1,3,6 were recorded separately from 2,4,5. To my ears, the latter (for example in the vigorous opening movement of no. 2) sounded a little muddy.