COMPOSERS: JS Bach
WORKS: Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, Books 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Angela Hewitt (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67741-4
This is Hewitt’s second recording of the ‘48’ in a decade. Fifty-eight live performances over 15 months gave her generous opportunity to mull over her approach. She also now plays a Fazioli piano, more luminous than the earlier creamy Steinway.
It’s tonally sensitive to different dynamics, so that her exemplary control of touch creates layered registers, a characteristic more usually associated with the fortepiano. For instance, in the magnificent D sharp minor fugue in Book 1, she colours distinctively each voice, revealing every entry.
Hewitt is no harpsichordist manqué. She takes full advantage of the piano’s potential, including its middle (sostenuto) pedal for that mighty tonic pedal below the final harmonies of Fugue in A minor, Book 1. But she clearly respects where Bach was coming from. She revels in the beguiling simplicity of Prelude in B flat, Book 2. She is sparing of sustaining pedal, gives spikier staccatos a plectrum’s edginess, and fast passagework a thrillingly lucid clarity (Prelude in G, Book 1).
Her quiet sustained tone is as silky and restrained as a clavichord; the opening of the first Prelude is breathtaking, creating a sense of embarking on a sustained pilgrimage throughout the whole set.
Hewitt’s notes tell of her exposure to the rhythmic freedom of Rameau and Couperin, of consciously becoming ‘more colour[ful]/elastic/expressive…’ and from this arises a central question about rhythmic continuity. It drives the sunny, carefree Prelude in B, Book 1 without hesitation, but elsewhere she holds back markedly to articulate the music’s structure.
Tiny rubatos break the headlong flow of the two-part Prelude in D minor, Book 2, and retard the link from fugal exposition to following episode in the F minor, Book 1 – for some perhaps a step too far; for others, a defining moment in the performance history of the ‘48’. But Hewitt’s second thoughts, enhanced by technically outstanding recording, hold me totally enthralled. George Pratt