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

Das wohltemperierte Klavier [The Well-Tempered Clavier] – Book II, BWV870-893

Angela Hewitt (piano)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 4 May, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Angela Hewitt. (c) Peter HundertIn January of this year, as part of her Bach World Tour, Angela Hewitt presented Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier in the Royal Festival Hall in what was a recital of careful poise and superb communication. To attend the second half of the ‘48’ from the same artist was surely something that ought not to be missed. Unfortunately it did not match up the high standards set by the first.

Hewitt made herself a hostage to fortune with her programme note: “the Well-Tempered Clavier has the power to uplift us in a way no other music can do. There is no reason why we can’t sing and dance even while playing a fugue!” Whilst the former sentiment is most certainly true the latter was not in the least met.

Notwithstanding that the ‘48’ is a monument to great musical creativity, Bach himself gives only the odd indication as to how these Preludes and Fugues should be played. The burden placed upon the performer is huge and it was the interpretation that was lacking. There were moments that captured the imagination but, on the whole, Hewitt’s approach was detached and laboured.

There was little joy to be had here; the Prelude in F minor (No.12) was a funeral march, the attendant Fugue illustrating best why things did not work as well as they could have done: a headlong charge at the opening but with little in reserve to carry the momentum created; and the first eight pairings, at least, were a chore, unremitting in their lack of variation. Occasionally, there were bursts of sound to change one’s mind: the ninth Fugue was a lesson in sculpture and the eleventh Prelude was emblematic of where Hewitt was happiest: the possibility to revel in melodic delight.

The reception that Angela Hewitt received at the end was rapturous. Not surprising. For anyone to commit to memory these most complex works and play them in one sitting takes great ability.

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