Recording of Bach Concertos for Hyperion

2005-09-01 / Gramophone / Nalen Anthoni

The old meets the new in an excellent survey of Bach’s keyboard concertos

These are not entirely modern-instrument performances. Angela Hewitt includes, as she says, ‘a harpsichord in its traditional role as continuo’. Combining old and new isn’t unusual because in the early years of performing practices, the likes of Thurston Dart, Raymond Leppard and George Malcolm married a harpsichord to modern strings and wind. What’s unusual here is the melding of two different types of keyboard, one sharply transient, the other ductile; and just how their functions dovetail with one another may be heard in the slow movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No5. Hewitt also adds a cello to the continuo while contributing notes inégales, appogiature and other embellishments to her own line. The result is a potent artistic synergy between the musicians

Hewitt doesn’t slavishly follow a formula, though. In the Adagio of No1 and the Adagio e piano sempre of No3 (where she is most intense because both remind her of Passion music), she omits the keyboard’s bass notes for the exposition of the theme but only in No1 does she play them for its return at the end. In these instances, in the Andante of No7 and elsewhere, she also varies the prominence of her left hand to give the ripieno string bass a strong presence too, while delineating the right hand melody most feelingly.

Interpretative decisions are intelligently applied; and Hewitt is at her best in the slow movements, all of which are played with the finest sensibility. If a more sinewy approach to a few of the outer movements might not have come amiss, her ability to gauge the critical notes of phrases so as to maintain an elastically accented rhythm offers ample compensation; and the consummate Australian Camber Orchestra is with her every step of the way. The flute is placed backwards in BWV1044 but otherwise recorded balance and sound ensure unimpeded concentration on the performances. Small changes in level between some works are easily adjusted.

Albert Schweitzer denounced the seven keyboard concertos as arrangements ‘often made with quite incredible haste and carelessness.’ They are nothing of the sort. Bach took a lot of care over their reworking’ and Hewitt and Co do likewise over their re-creation. A superb pair of discs.