Bach: Bach Arrangements CD
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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 ChurchSee all Product description
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In her most-informative notes, Hewitt points out how "the ability to translate spirituality into sound at the keyboard is of certainly important to avoid famous tunes sounding banal or hacknayed." Her versions of the famous "Jesu" and "Sheep may safely graze" (as well as her own three lovely transcriptions) do seem to succeed in conveying a spiritual core to avoid sounding trite. In the great Bach pastoral work ("Sheep may graze"), she convincingly summons the highly endearing and nurturing quality that D. Myra Hess exuded in her piano transcription which was played frequently over the radio during the great war to comfort many a troups and families in hardship. Maybe in a couple pieces Ms. Hewitt draws out the tempo a bit, but I found this gave the piece a more introspective tone that I appreciated later upon further listening. Other works on a more grand scale (like the Passacaglia for organ) reveal Bach as a daunting church composer and sound reasonably authoritive on Hewitt's piano. Her best pieces here may be also her most personally involved ones - her own three transcriptions - which embody a most moving, introspective and heartwarming quality. I think these are a humble highlight of the set.
The Hyperion sound is clear and full bodied while the substantial CD notes offer valuable history of the transciptions and Ms. Hewitt's perspectives on how she approached them. Significant coverage is given to the past legends of the piano like Kempff, Hess, Howells, d'Albert that will be appreciated especially by pianists. In short, a unique, spiritual and lovely set of recordings in Angela Hewitt's ever-growing quiver of Bach recordings.
The others who keep asking questions and aspire to reach higher realm of music making, trying to capture fleeting moment of the divine. (Richter, Rubinstein, Pogorelich, Volodos etc)
To me Hewitt belongs to the former. The elegance, fluency and subtlety of her playing are admirable enough, but that's all there is. Her recordings and her live performances Bach give me the impression that she is just content scratching surface of the music despite her refined style. Pretty playing but not for me.
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