Bach: The Art of Fugue (CD)

2014-10-26 / The Sunday Times / Hugh Canning

The Art of Fugue is Bach’s last will and testament, which he (poignantly) failed to finish before death overcame his undimmed genius. The huge Contrapunctus 14 comes to an abrupt halt, which Hewitt follows with a long, deeply moving silence before rounding off, as Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel did when preparing the work for posthumous publication, with Bach’s keyboard arrangement of ‘Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit’ (With this I step before your throne). Apocryphally known as the ‘deathbed chorale’, it’s an apt and satisfactory conclusion to the composer’s unfinished music. In her scholarly but lucid notes, Hewitt admits she was daunted by this music, which Bach probably wrote for himself, without specifying instrumentation as an intellectual challenge. (The 14 fugues are perhaps his most complex and austere works, a summation of his lifelong preoccupation with counterpoint.) She only tookThe Art of Fugue into her repertoire in 2012, but it crowns—magnificently—her acclaimed Hyperion recordings of the complete keyboard works, reaffirming her position as the outstanding Bach pianist of her generation.