The new WTC on Hyperion

2009-03-29 / The Observer / Stephen Pritchard

The Well-Tempered Clavier Books 1 and 2
Angela Hewitt (piano) (Hyperion CDA67741/4) (4CDs) £34.24

A decade after her dazzling recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Angela Hewitt has done it again. Literally. Fresh from her Bach World Tour – in which she performed the work in 58 cities in 21 countries on six continents – she has gone back into the studio (actually the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin) and made a new recording of this landmark work for keyboard.

Why? Because, she says, while living and growing with the music during the year-long world tour, her interpretations changed. Internalising the material, she uncovered a new-found freedom within it; opportunities to throw fresh colour into the mix, to loosen up, to be more expressive, echoing Bach’s compulsion to revise and refine the work over the years.

Devotees of her first recording might fear that this means buckets of rubato at the expense of the rhythmic structure of each prelude and fugue, but they can rest easy. Hewitt uses it purely to shine a light on a moment when she feels the listener needs to pay particular attention, not to make some grand statement or overblown gesture.

The result is a precious document, which draws upon her development as a person and a performer over the past 10 years. Playing of this ease and assurance rarely has such a profound understanding of the material. This is no mechanical journey through the cycle of keys. This is life itself.