Bach: The Partitas

1997-06-01 / Gramophone / Lionel Salter

After ages without any recordings of the Partitas on the piano, three suddenly appear within a month. I was regretting that no previous issue had been altogether satisfactory and reconciling myself to suggesting that Steuermann’s performance (reviewed above) was probably the best available although I disliked the harshness of his tone, when lo! along comes Angela Hewitt and saves the situation, effortlessly eclipsing all competitors. At the risk of repeating myself, I have to say that if Bach is to be played on the piano, this is the kind of way to do it. Inherent in all her playing is a rhythmic vitality, always under control, that sweeps one along with its momentum, subtly varied articulation, dynamics that follow the natural rise or fall of phrases without exaggerations, an appreciation of Bach’s harmonic tensions, an ability to differentiate between the strength of contrapuntal lines, and an unfailing clarity of texture. Not for her the liberal addition of extra embellishments affected by some players: any ornamentation is reserved for repeats (her G major Sarabande is the most decorated).
This is a sane and sensible interpretation, deeply musicianly and devoid of eccentricity. Her attitude, rather like Toscanini’s, is to accept the text com’ e scritto (for example, she adopts the ‘square-wheel’ rhythm of the E minor Gigue) and then to make legitimate adjustments, so we get double-dotting and assimilation of rhythms (though not uniformly, again as in the G major Sarabande). Technically she is immaculate, with the cleanest possible ornaments: the fearsome double fugue of the G major Gigue has an easy fluency, and the C minor Capriccio bubbles along with a spring-heeled zest. The B flat Minuet is invested with charm, the C minor initial Grave is spaced with dignity, and the E minor Toccata is given an improvisatory air. In the great E minor Sarabande Hewitt is justifiably emotional, without becoming soggy: only in the first half of the A minor Allemande is there a hint of coyness. No, the whole disc gives unalloyed pleasure: definitely one of my choices of the year.’