Bach: The Inventions

1994-11-01 / Gramophone / John Duarte

How is it that it has taken so long for Angela Hewitt’s first, excellent recording of Bach (DG, 10/86—now available only on cassette) to be followed by this present one? Her approach may be gleaned from her refreshingly lucid annotation, or simply by listening to what she does. ”A skilful player can [bring out the different voices] with different colours” and ”To be capable of producing a true legato without using the pedal will serve a pianist well in any repertoire”: Hewitt puts her fingers where her thoughts are, to signal effect and without resorting to the excesses of one of her celebrated fellow-countrymen. She never upsets the balance of the lines that it is in the nature of the harpsichord (Bach’s chosen instrument) to yield, and her economy with the sustaining pedal helps to preserve their clarity; only in the A minor three-part Invention do I feel that, in ‘separating’ the lines, the staccato is a little overdone.
The two- and three-part Inventions are treated as music in their own right, not simply as the invaluable exercises they are; each is given its distinctive character, with a wonderful variety of sensitive touch and shapely rubato that never once threatens to become anachronistic. There are ‘hairpinned’ dynamics (foreign to the harpsichord) but they always make musical sense and rarely provoke a raised eyebrow. Her readings of the C minor Fantasia and the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue are as eloquent and stimulating as any yet recorded by a harpsichordist. My natural preference is for the performance of this music on the harpsichord, but if it is to be presented on the piano, as it regularly is, then this is as close to how I would choose to hear it as I have yet had the pleasure of doing. Hewitt: more, please—there is still a lot of Bach left for you to record in your respectful and admirable way.’