Bach: Miscellaneous Keyboard Works

2004-08-14 / Ottawa Citizen / Richard Todd

With the release of this collection of sundry fantasias, fugues, variations,
sonatas and other short works, Ottawa’s Angela Hewitt completes her
celebrated traversal of Bach’s complete extant works for keyboard. It is the
capstone to one of the finest and most exciting recording projects of the CD

This music will be familiar only to the most knowledgeable fans and, of
course, to keyboard artists who specialize in Bach. In Hewitt’s hands,
though, it is immediately apparent that this is music worth getting to know.
The opening Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904 is a good example. It is an easy-to-follow work with exceptionally transparent counterpoint. Yet it is a work of substance, most likely neglected only because there are so many similar pieces included in the big sets like the Well-Tempered Clavier. Had Bach only left us a few keyboard pieces like this, he would still be reckoned a composer of the highest order.

Hewitt brings the virtues to it for which her Bach has become celebrated – a
wondrous sense of line, fluid and expressive playing, and the discipline of
achieving all of this without significantly tampering with the letter of the score.
Aria Variata ‘alla Maniera Italiana’, BWV 989 might be thought of as a kind
of Goldberg Variations Lite – very Lite to be sure – but a fine work in its
own right. Hewitt’s interpretation does not make any attempt to have it
sound grander than it really is, but with the consummate lucidity that she
brings to it, this is an exceptionally enjoyable offering. It would be a
good point of entry for listeners new to Bach’s keyboard works or for
someone who wanted a sparkling clear introduction to the theme-and-variations form.

The Sonata in D, BWV 963 is a different kind of piece, Bach’s only totally original sonata. And though it is an early work, it does anticipate the Gallant style with which he would experiment briefly later on. The most obvious difference between the sonata and most of the other material on the disc is that its first movement is built on successions of chords rather
than on standard contrapuntal forms like the fugue. (The third movement,
however, is simple, beautiful fugue, and the last movement is another one,
though very fast and not particularly simple.

As usual, the Hyperion engineers capture every nuance of Hewitt’s exquisitely nuanced playing. The piano placement sounds entirely natural, neither so close as to spread the piano across the entire listening area, nor distant enough that the sense of definition is compromised in any way.

With its variety and the brevity and accessibility of every item on the
program, this CD would be an ideal first purchase for anyone exploring the
keyboard music, or indeed the music in general, of J.S. Bach. The fact that
it’s all played by one of Bach’s finest interpreters only makes it that much