Angela Hewitt: Bach Performance on the Piano (2 discs) (2008)

by | Apr 3, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Angela Hewitt: Bach Performance on the Piano (2 discs) (2008)

Studio: Hyperion Records, Ltd.
Video: 1.78:1 enhanced for 16:9, color
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Russian, Japanese
Length: 210 minutes total
Rating: ***1/2

Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt has not only carved out her place among great pianists of the latter part of twentieth century (and onward), but has at the same time become known as one of the great Bach interpreters on the piano, placing herself alongside the likes of Rosalyn Tureck and Glenn Gould. A consummate concert artist, she’s also an erudite lecturer on the virtues of Bach piano performance. This superb two-DVD set from Hyperion offers an excellent opportunity to hear Angela Hewitt expound upon Bach performance and also presents a one-hour recital with the talented pianist.

I have to admit that I found disc one of this set less than overwhelming; while Angela Hewitt offered a great deal of insight into Bach the man and his compositional style, much of the disc’s two-hour-plus runtime dealt with her technical approach to Bach performance. While there was a great deal of information to be gleaned and applied to my appreciation of Bach performance on the piano, not being a pianist myself, many of her discussions were of such a totally technical nature that they went right over my head. I can, however, fully appreciate that her lectures would be of incalculable value to students of the piano.

For that matter, the second disc performance was really overwhelming; Angela Hewitt’s style and grace at the piano is nothing short of magnificent, and it’s a real treat (especially for those of us who don’t get out too often) to see live performances of pieces I’ve been listening to on her CDs for years. From an audio standpoint, I preferred the DTS soundtrack, which offered me a greater sense of “being there.” However, the LPCM stereo option was excellent as well. My only real complaint – other than my inability to fully process the flood of information – is with the disc’s video; while the video quality is top-notch, artistically it leaves much to be desired. On disc one (the lecture disc), much of the disc’s runtime concentrates on Angela Hewitt speaking about Bach performance, and the filmmakers chose to shoot her head almost full-frame. So on a nine-foot screen, I get about a five-foot rendering of her head, which is more than a little disconcerting. The performance disc is very dark, and the filmmakers chose to focus many of the shots from the length of the piano – once again, we get Angela Hewitt’s head, when I’d much rather see those fingers massaging the keys!

While the two-disc set is a superb source of information, coupled with an equally superb performance, it still leaves a lot to be desired; for students and fans of Angela Hewitt, though, it’s essential watching. Recommended.

[Being partial to Bach on the harpsichord, I couldn’t agree with Hewitt’s rationale denigrating that instrument in favor of the grand piano. But the interesting setting of the first disc is inside the Fazioli Piano factory near Venice, and the performance disc is also utilizes a Fazioli concert grand. This is Hewitt’s chosen make, and I agree with her – at least from the recordings I’ve heard I think it’s the best-sounding grand piano in the world today…Ed.]

— Tom Gibbs



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