Bach: Das wohltemperirte Clavier, Book I

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Das wohltemperirte Clavier, Book I
PERFORMER: Angela Hewitt (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67301-02(2 discs)
Bach may have initially conceived The Well-Tempered Clavier as a teaching-aid for his nine-year-old son Wilhelm Friedemann, but he ended up creating a masterpiece. Though its reputation can seem daunting (it’s been called the ‘pianist’s Old Testament’), and it certainly represents a challenge for performers, Bach’s variety of invention and mercurial shifts of mood make this music a pure delight for the listener.


There have been many fine piano versions of The Well-Tempered Clavier, though none is without its drawbacks. Edwin Fischer’s pioneering recording is beautifully played, though its hissy Thirties sound will not please audiophiles; Glenn Gould is exhilarating but idiosyncratic, András Schiff is poetic but non-idiomatic, and Jeno´´ Jandó, while both sensitive and sensible, is also a touch prosaic. Luckily, Angela Hewitt’s new version of Book 1 eclipses all others, and if Book 2 (promised for next year) is as good, hers will become the benchmark recording.


In her notes, Hewitt recalls that Artur Schnabel felt The Well-Tempered Clavier ‘too intimate’ to play in concert. A similar sense of rapt involvement distinguishes Hewitt’s own approach – her playing sounds less like a performance than a personal communion between pianist and composer. Her technique is impeccable, a model of clarity, fluency and discretion: rhythms dance, tones sing, yet articulation is always clean and precise. If some listeners may prefer a brighter sound or more extrovert playing, I feel sure many others will, like me, cherish Hewitt’s Bach as something special and uniquely enchanting.