Bach: Arrangements

2001-09-22 / Winnipeg Free Press / James Manishen


Imagine a smiling J.S. Bach standing over the shoulder of his youngest son Johann Christian Bach — reportedly the greatest pianist of his time — observing a demonstration of the range and power of the new “piano.”

This did happen. It’s a warmly affectionate image to keep in mind while listening to Angela Hewitt’s very affectionate and beautifully played set of Bach transcriptions by a variety of piano luminaries, herself included.

Bach himself was a notorious transcriber, recycling not only his own music but much by others. Here, we see the music through the personalities of the transcribers, but with the original versions still well in view.

German pianist Wilhelm Kempff sets Bach’s Sinfonia in D major in full-blown orchestration. It’s one of five Kempff arrangements. Myra Hess’s famous Jesu, joy of man’s desiring is here and Hewitt’s reading might very well be Hess’s own. Mary Howe’s setting of Sheep may safely graze is a nice companion, for those who want the familiar.

Arrangements by Harold Bauer and Eugen d’Albert have almost Lisztian panoramas. Herbert Howells, William Walton, Lord Berners and others complete the 17 tracks.

Hewitt’s own version of Alle Menschen mussen sterben closes, in Bach’s resignation of eternal life after death. One might vote this track ideal solace in view of the terrible events of last week.