Bach: The Toccatas

2002-07-28 / The Sunday Times / Hugh Canning

Classical CD of the week:

THE CANADIAN doyenne of modern Bach piano players incorporates the seven early toccatas into her continuing survey of the keyboard works. Hewitt makes the strongest possible case for playing them on the piano. Her Bach in concert and on disc has rightly been showered with praise, and she brings all the familiar virtues of her Bach-playing to these less familiar works. Her brilliant exposition of Bach’s counterpoint, the crisp, “sprung” articulation of her touch (the Italian word toccata means “touched”) is more harpsichord-like than any other pianist in this music, and her impeccable taste imparts these works with a vitality that cannot be achieved on the organ. As the composer’s manuscripts are lost and the toccatas were not published during his lifetime, it has been impossible to establish a certain chronology — unlike the Partitas, the French and the English Suites, they were not conceived as a “set” — so Hewitt opts for her own sequence, starting with the C minor and concluding with the D major. Like the music itself, the performances brim with that improvisatory spontaneity that is the hallmark of this player’s style.