Bach Book at Wigmore Hall

2010-11-23 / The Guardian / Martin Kettle

Angela Hewitt’s colourful and extrovert way with Bach may offend scholarly dry sticks, especially when rendered in the brilliance of her preferred Fazioli piano, as it was here. Yet, for the generation following that of her fellow Canadian Glenn Gould, Hewitt has become almost synonymous with Bach on the piano.

Hewitt’s two Wigmore recitals are a chance to rediscover why this is so, and why Hewitt is also much more than this. At the suggestion of the late musicologist Michael Steinberg, Hewitt has put together her Bach Book, a collection of transcriptions (including three by herself) and six newly commissioned pieces inspired by Bach. The new works, along with Bach’s own three-part inventions, provide the backbone of her two programmes.

Of the recent pieces in the first concert, Robin Holloway’s Partitina, based around the opening bass line of the Goldberg variations’ aria, was particularly successful. Its five-section structure and almost bluesy harmonies, made it the most musically ambitious of the three, conveying an artistic personality while remaining engaged with Bachian strictness. Yehudi Wyner’s Fantasia on BACH was more enigmatic and inconclusive, while Brett Dean’s Prelude and Chorale was a terrific juxtaposition of pyrotechnics and loving transcription.

Earlier, Hewitt’s performance of Bach’s English Suite No 4 had taken time to settle, although by the minuet and gigue it was the Fazioli’s clarity rather than its power that was most impressive. The three-part inventions were played with great rigour, and the poignant E flat piece and the austere E minor invention was distinguished. Hewitt’s transcriptions of three chorales from the Orgelbüchlein were grave and striking, while the C minor Toccata, with which she finished, was played with fluency and was the best of the lot.