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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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The 48 Preludes and Fugues form one of Bach's greatest works for the keyboard. There is a vast range of pieces which are charming, dramatic, joyful, melancholy...you name it. They are all beautifully done with Bach's unrivalled counterpoint and sense of structure and are an unalloyed pleasure from the famous and lovely first Prelude from Book One to the mighty, intense B minor fugue which concludes Book Two.

Angela Hewitt plays Bach superbly. Her work has attracted universal admiration, and these discs show why. Her technique is impeccable, so that each line is perfectly articulated while blending ideally with the others. She respects and conveys the structure of the music while bringing out its wonderful range of emotions and colours. There is just sufficient rubato (speeding up and slowing down) to make the music really speak to us, but it never intrudes as in some other performances and she allows Bach's magnificent music to blossom under her fingers. This is my favourite recording of the 48, which is very high praise given the tremendous quality of the competition.

The only reason not to buy this set is if you have a rooted objection to Bach played on the piano and can only tolerate a harpsichord. I also have Davitt Moroney's excellent recording on the harpsichord Bach - Well Tempered Clavierand enjoy that, too, but the harpsichord does not have any dynamic range and the ability to play loudly or quietly when required on the piano makes the Hewitt performance the one I would choose overall.

I bought the originals years ago and the two sets cost over £50 between them. I have never regretted a single penny. These are recordings to last a lifetime: I still play them very regularly and with enormous pleasure. Now that these discs are reissued at budget price they are a real bargain, too, and recommended in the strongest possible terms.
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on 29 January 2009
Hewitt's set has been rightly praised for its clarity, and at this price is definitely one of the better sets of the 48 around, if you like your Bach on piano. Hewitt uses the dynamics of the piano subtly but effectively, and has a wonderful way of bringing out the inner voices and the contrapuntal qualities. Great value for money too.

BUT, I don't feel a huge emotional engagement. This is Bach as music for the mind, but most of the time Bach writes for the heart and the feet as well. In particular I miss the sense of dance which is never far away from Bach's rhythms. Kenneth Gilbert on harpsichord for DG Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier IBach - The Well-Tempered Clavier IIremains my favourite, and for piano, call me an old ham, but Richter's "romantic", reverberant, totally committed recording on RCABach - The Well-tempered Clavier, Books 1 & 2 is spell-binding, if not for purists.
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on 14 June 2008
I never tire of Bach's preludes and fugues; they provide constant stimulation for the brain whilst opening up the beart. This set has real balance and provides a wonderful contrast to Gould's wildly eccentric set. Warmly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 4 February 2009
Nothing to add to the plentiful reviews that rightly praise Angela Hewitt's playing. It's beautifully judged - characterful without being overdone. It really is an interpretation to live with in the long-term. However...

First and foremost, she's just announced she is going to re-record The Well-Tempered Clavier. Not a reason not to buy this set especially at bargain price; but some people (who aren't sensitive to price!) may prefer to wait and see how the new set is received.

Secondly, I'm a little disapppointed with the sound on this set. I've played it on several different sound systems, and I've found I have to keep the volume lower than I feel is ideal; at what I regard as 'normal' volume for piano music, I find it has a harsh, 'clanging' tone. But nobody else seeems to have commented; maybe that's just me...
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on 17 June 2008
Having heard Angela Hewitt play the 48 Preludes and Fugues during her recent World Tour, I could not resist this CD set. Her playing is precise, intimate, thoughtful and bright - she extracts all the colours from each pair and the voices of each fugue are crystal clear. The music speaks for itself. This is as near perfect a performance as I have ever heard.
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on 19 January 2008
Hewitt's paying is perfect for this genre: intimate yet emphatic - she knows what she wants to convey and sets about it with gusto. The sleeve notes add to the sense that this is a personal odyssey - there is no detached reserve to this playing. This is a disc (beautifully recorded) that ripens and enriches with the playing of it. What more could anyone want? Don't miss out: buy it.
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on 1 December 2010
I just don't get this playing. I've listened intently to every track - there are some occasional moments of 'creative' playing, but, on the whole, I feel that the playing distinctly lacks both voice and character.

The 48 are not all great works, and Hewitt has performed an admirable task in going through the motions of recording them. But I had to ask myself if she had anything special to give to the WTC, if she had 'new' ideas, if her playing projected such giving humanity that is was worth the effort of recording. The answer to each was, sadly, no, no and no.

It would be ridiculous to give a summary of each track, so overall comments will have to suffice. There was consistency here in that the whole lot sounded as if Hewitt was in a bad mood when she recorded them - there seems to be no love, despite all the wonderful claims made about her 'connection' with Bach's music (a connection I do not think she has - will review her 'Goldberg' shortly!). Each piece seemed po-faced, schoolmarm-like, as though Hewitt was playing for a college examination. Bach's monumental creative message never once shot out at me and, despite it being quite hard to make Bach sound bad, Hewitt manages to miss the message in each work. Where is the humour, the dance, the pathos, the agony, the struggle for resolution, the sense of fun, the sense of foreboding, the stillness and the empathy? It is absent in this playing, playing that reeks of narcissism, yet conveys no powerful message.

Perhaps Ms. Hewitt was trying to imitate a harpsichord - her indifference to tonal nuance seems to suggest so. Or maybe, as do so many 'purists', she believe that Bach sounds best when underplayed and dull-sounding. If so, then the recording is a success.

It is interesting that Hewitt sounded more at home in the slightly quicker works - although her finger-work does not ever 'shine' enough and her fast fugal playing loses sense of fugal logic.

All I ask for in Bach playing by modern Bach players is that they convey some of the magnificence and might of Bach's intentions: majesty, flow, pulse, meter, dynamic, sensitivity, delight and humanity. I think it may be time for Hewitt to go back to the drawing board.

Terribly upsetting playing of some of music's most magnificent works.
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on 26 January 2009
Many people possess musical collections performed by more than one artist; the Bach 48 is one such collection.

In my judgment the supreme interpretation of these works is by Rosalyn Tureck. However, Angela Hewitt's offering is very creditable; certainly good enough to share shelf space with Gould and Fischer. I recommend it as a worthily different, alternative perspective.
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on 29 June 2016
Beautiful playing. I very much appreciate that the commentary is written by Angela Hewitt herself, they are very much a performer's guide rather than the bland mush that you sometimes get in CD sleeve notes - it is almost like having her as a teacher to give you a lesson on her interpretation, and why she has chosen to do things as she has.
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on 6 August 2012
Hewitt's playing is very good, though never virtuosic, and often tending to blandness, with some unsuccessful tempo bulges, especially in opening bars, and over-meditated rallentandos in closing bars. Compare it with the unruly, compelling spontaneity (albeit flawed*) of Fischer - where nearly every prelude emerges as a brilliant character piece and every fugue a revelation of invention. [Fischer was the first person to record the 48, I think, so none of his decisions result from having studied a back catalogue of rival interpretations - no need to try and produce a newly thought-out, artfully conceived reading, just sit at the piano and get on with it.] I had high hopes for Angela Hewitt's 48, but alas, discovered only that she is an admirable pianist, not a creator of marvels. She often produces an inexorable wash of notes, which, after a while, leaves you not knowing (or even caring) where you are in the proceedings. Not so Fischer! Every moment counts - you never find yourself in the middle of nowhere, but are riveted, gripped, high on the flux of an imagination lighting every phrase, never obtrusive, never pedantic, and only rarely allowing unguarded moments of limelight flamboyancy.

There's no single right way to play Bach - but there are many wrong ways, or at least lesser ways, duller ways. Having heard many recordings of the 48, I can say without doubt, the best is Fischer's. Don't have reservations about the 1930s sound: it's natural enough, woody and not too reverberant, if obviously dated - but preferable to some modern recordings, such as Hewitt's, where the piano can be tiresomely clangourous. To sum up: A reasonable, safe account; buy it if you must. But life is short, and Fischer offers you the chance to reach new heights of understanding, to discover greater depths of feeling, to find beauty that might otherwise elude you.

[* A note on mistakes: They are human. They add colour. It's a shame we inhabit a Pro Tools, clinical, fear-of-reality, editable world today. I love Fischer's fumbles. They endear him to me, and make it so much more telling and actual. Anyway enough said...]
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