Bach: The Toccatas

2002-08-22 / BBC Radio / Charles Whilems

“Angela Hewitt’s deftness of touch perfectly illuminates each different mood…”

Surely the Toccata was just the sort of piece for Bach. The perfect vehicle to display his gifts as a flamboyant, gifted and sometimes controversial performer. Forget the Bach Toccata however; there are no gothic vaults here, no bats in the belfry. These delightful early showpieces more closely resemble courtly dances.

Each contains several contrasting sections making varied, yet self-contained, pieces which can be listened to singly, like savouring a glass of light wine, or one after the other, like enjoying the whole bottle. And these truly are pieces to savour: the captivating G major Toccata, for example, with its exuberant opening movement and delicate central adagio followed by a joyful fugue. Repeated listening constantly reveals new delights such as the artfully concealed fugues of the Toccata in C minor (track 1 @ 3’39”) or the D Major (track 7 @ 8’06”).

The pieces are not arranged in chronological order. Indeed as Angela Hewitt points out in her excellent sleeve notes, their chronological order isn’t known. This has enabled the sequence of pieces to be chosen to heighten the contrast between them – witness the transition between the end of the Toccata in G major and the opening of the F sharp minor.

Angela Hewitt’s deftness of touch perfectly illuminates each different mood: exquisite slow movements which make you hold your breath in order not to break the spell; fugues which bubble along like a crystal clear stream running over pebbles shining in the sun. Clarity of texture with none of the details lost along the way. With playing such as this, arguments regarding on which sort of instrument, whether piano or harpsichord, they should be played, become redundant.

This disc is a delight from start to finish, a disc to lift the saddest of spirits.