If you are newer to Bach's abundent solo keyboard music - or Angela Hewitt - then this CD is an excellent place to start. It features the popular "French Overture" and contains some of the more lyrical and "accessible" music Bach wrote for the keyboard. There is a delightful mix of Bach compositions here capturing the 16th/17th century musical styles from Italy, France, Germany and Spain. Bach shows himself to be a true "non-politico" - as well as the master composer of the era - by skillfully combining the musical styles from these countries (namely France and Italy) to produce works of great musical style and appeal. In the opening Italian piece, Hewitt does great justice to Bach's tribute to the Italian concerto style with a convincing "dialog" between lighter solo episodes (tutti) and the fuller passages imitating orchestral effect (ritornello) - all on one keyboar of course. This piece is most famous for the adagio which Hewitt infuses with much heart and soul by her delicate, thoughtful melodic lines that never approach over sentimentality. The main event of this CD must certainly be the monumental "French Overture" (aka: Partita in B minor) - a grand conception lasting some 30 minutes repleat with numerous movements of French courtly dance influence and rich in imaginative and decorative keyboard effects. Miss Hewitt wonderfully articulates these effervescent rhythms with supreme confidence and masterful result. Her ornamentations are always tasteful, seamlessly integrated and truly enthralling to hear. In the off-beat rhythms of the gigue, her semiquavers bounce off the page with great poise and the crispness of fresh-pressed linen. And she shows her masterful pianism to its fullest in the curious final "echo" movement, bringing an brilliant, orchestral quality to it. Hiding in the shadows of these two main events are four charming little "duets." These are no mere "fillers" but delightfully catchy, two-part inventions that Hewitt plays to full effect. Rounding out the program is a most unique "program music" piece by Bach thought written around the story of his older brother's departure ("Capriccio on departure of his brother"). In it, Angela Hewitt communicates both its nostalgic sentiments with her gentle, poinant phrasing and dynamics along with the piece's festive celebratory ending with her effective creation of trumpet and horn effects. A wonderful range of emotive effects in one piece. Her carefree yet tight-on-the-rails style truly seems to bring out the best of Bach's keyboard treasures - transforming them into music of great vitality and charm. Her approach to Bach is one of artistry, nuance and good taste (not unlike Schiff) but without the "directness" or the "rough edges" that can be found in other performer's approaches (Gould and Gulda, respectfully). The many great Bach performers through the last decades have given us many "pallates of color" to experience, and Hewitt's colors are most notably beauty of tone, a poetic flavor, and graceful fluidity of line at its heart. Angela Hewitt has been heralded as "the premier Bach pianist of this generation" in part for her ability to convey the music of J.S. Bach with exuberance, clarity and authority. Just about any recording of Bach's keyboard music by Angela Hewitt is a safe bet for being among the top choices available, and this CD is certainly no exception. It received the highest marks from both Gramaphone and Penguin Guides while ClassicsToday gave it a perfect 10/10 for Artisty/Sound Quality. In all her Bach recordings from Hyperion, the sound quality of this recording is among the fullest and most realistically recorded (where some other recordings like her Couperin, WTC or French Suites are done with a touch more "spaciousness" but still with clarity). Also a highlight are the scholarly and detailed notes delineating the nuances of the various "dance" types that Bach encorporated into his compositions. In all, an emmensely satisfying recording from a top Bach pianist of our time. Highly recommended.
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