WTC II in Glasgow

2008-05-21 / Glasgow Herald / Conrad Wilson

Angela Hewitt, City Hall, Glasgow

The 20-year span that separates the two books of Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues shrank to two days in Angela Hewitt’s performance of them in Glasgow. It was a compelling feat of memory (she played all 96 pieces without the safety-net of a printed score), concentration, stamina and, during the closing portion of a marathon that lured a large audience to the City Hall for a total of more than five hours, the art of intensifying what was already intense.

Why accept such a challenge – and, as Hewitt is doing, tour it around the world? Partly, no doubt, to prove, as Alfred Brendel declared when he toured all the Beethoven sonatas, that you are a juggler, tightrope-walker and trapeze-artist all in one. But there is more to it than that. Bach’s 48, like Beethoven’s 32, are among the greatest of all keyboard music, and their fascination is unending. Hewitt, 50 this year, has been at the high end of Bach performance for a decade or more. If she has diversified into other composers, it has been only to return to Bach with renewed fervour and insight.

To hear her feeling her way quietly (or so she made it seem) into the start of book two was to be made instantly aware of this. Book two is not like book one. The scale is bigger, the counterpoint richer, the emotional range wider. With perfect timing (even her sips of water between pieces seemed timed) she moved through the music in a single sweep, approaching the rock-face of the last few pieces as if they were the Hammerklavier sonata. The result was a triumph of charm and caprice, depth and integrity.