Bruckner: Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: LSO, BBC SO/Jascha Horenstein
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4017-2 ADD
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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.