Angela Hewitt’s Bach Tour – The Well-Tempered Clavier [Book I]

Das wohltemperierte Klavier [The Well-Tempered Clavier] – Book I, BWV846-869

Angela Hewitt (piano)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 20 January, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Angela Hewitt. (c) Peter HundertAngela Hewitt’s world-tour dedicated to both Books of J. S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier – the Old Testament of piano music (albeit originally written for harpsichord), Beethoven’s 32 sonatas being the New – brought her to a sold-out Royal Festival Hall for Book I. To hear all 24 of either of the Books is a rare treat and, on the whole, this afternoon recital did not disappoint.

What was heard here was Hewitt’s Bach, a very personal view. What Hewitt brings is polyphonic clarity, which is allowed to weave its seductive spell. There are no brash statements. Hewitt has been deeply affected by the music and she communicates her understanding of the notes. Her beloved Fazioli piano sounded magnificent and brought the clarity she seeks, the Royal Festival Hall acoustic seemingly ideal and more convincing than when Alfred Brendel played there in the then-new surroundings in June of last year. Hewitt’s piano sounded clear, whole and direct – but never harsh.

The opening of the C major Prelude was instantly seductive and set the path on which she would take us. Other examples include the F minor Prelude (No.12), which elicited a sense of dread and foreboding, and its companion Fugue, where intense concentration revelled in desolation. Similar ideas occupied the B flat minor Prelude (No.23) which, though lacking in the same conviction, nonetheless commanded rapt attention, the Fugue building tension still further to a cathartic close. The melancholic D minor (No.6) was notable for the way in which instinct governed Hewitt’s playing along with unforced balance between hands.

Perhaps Hewitt’s ‘view’ of the music was less convincing in the ‘jolly’ keys, which seemed po-faced. The G major (No.15) passed-by without notice (it was fast!); similarly the almost-rejoicing D major Prelude (No.5), though she had more to say in the rhythms of this Fugue, and the A major set (No.19) was naïve – nothing more than this Prelude and Fugue ought to be.

The final pairing (B minor, No.24) is the longest and they were utterly transfixing. Subtlety was achieved in the Prelude and the Fugue was simplicity personified; there was no overstating the musical ideas and her heavy pedalling and domination of the keyboard at the close of the Fugue was an addition that rounded off the recital perfectly, allowing a release of tension.

Hewitt displayed a secure architectural overview of these monuments. Once again, extra-musical problems attempted to ruin the performance. There were plenty of ghastly coughs between the Preludes and Fugues and the low humming of the Hall’s air-conditioning system (which does a questionable job as it was rather hot in the auditorium) was ruinous to the piano’s fade-outs.

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