Complete Bach on Hyperion

2010-09-25 / / Graham Rickson

Angela Hewitt plays Bach: The Complete Solo Piano Recordings (Hyperion)

Summarising this set is near-impossible: 15 discs collecting Angela Hewitt’s Bach keyboard performances, in recordings made between 1994 and 2008. In fact it’s not quite complete, as she’s recorded The Well-Tempered Clavier twice, and this release includes the later version. So we get the Goldberg Variations, the French and English Suites, the Toccatas, the Italian Concerto and much, much more. Listening repeatedly to the 17 hours of music contained in this box has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done all year. Hewitt plays the Goldberg Variations with all repeats, including a breathtakingly slow Variation 25, magically drawn out. Her second recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier is more warmly recorded and expressive than the first, with a symphonic sweep that’s compelling for the work’s three-and-a-half hour span.

Hewitt is never austere or stern, Bach’s geniality shining through in her readings of the sets of suites, the dance movements burbling with wit. She doesn’t use much pedal, giving her playing a crystalline, though never clinical, clarity, with fugal voices clearly defined. The smaller, less well-known works shine: sample the delightful mopping up” (Hewitt’s own term) collection of short pieces on disc 15. Hewitt’s sleeve notes are an entertaining read – less about the music than about the circumstances and stories behind the recording of each work. As much as I love Bach played on the piano by Glenn Gould and Murray Perahia, Angela Hewitt’s collection is possibly the most consistently enjoyable of all, turning music which can seem dry and academic in the wrong hands into something enjoyable, exciting, passionate and very moving. There’s a bonus disc entitled Not Bach, a sampler of her performances of other composers, including Messiaen, Chopin and Beethoven. It’s all marvellous.”