Bach: Italian Concerto, French Overture

2003-03-01 / / Jed Distler

Angela Hewitt’s Bach on the concert grand grows in stature and refinement with each release of her projected Hyperion cycle devoted to the composer’s keyboard works. Her deftly choreographed fingers rejuvenate the Italian Concerto’s familiar strains to revelatory effect, and make Bach’s solo/orchestral effects sound organically alive rather than predictable. True, Hewitt can be somewhat arch when she reduces accompanimental figures to whisper-singing, but she compensates with a mesmerizing, long-lined slow movement. In contrast to Koroliov and Gould’s prickly staccato, Hewitt shapes the alternating bass note/chord left hand accompaniment as if a string section had replaced her piano’s bottom end.

The B-flat major Capriccio is welded into a nimble playlet, laced with sharply delineated ornaments. I also like Hewitt’s upbeat treatment of the E major Capriccio and the specific character she gives to each of the four Duets. Having lived with Koroliov’s cosmic rumination in the A minor duet, I was surprised and ultimately convinced by Hewitt’s strident, no-nonesense briskness–she shaves four minutes off the former pianist’s timing. Hewitt’s booklet notes discuss the niceties of rhythm and accentuation that give French court dances their character. She certainly backs up what she says in her masterful French Overture: a performance overflowing with grace, beauty, rarified detail, and style to burn. Like Richter, she takes the opening movement’s huge first ending repeat. While I normally prefer this option untaken, Hewitt plays so beautifully that you don’t mind the longeurs. This is Hewitt’s most absorbing Bach release to date. Don’t miss it.