BACH: Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 906; Two-Part Inventions (15), BWV 772-786; Three-Part Inventions (15), BWV 787-801; Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903; English Suites (complete); French Suites (complete); Prelude in C major, BWV 924; Prelude in D major, BWV 925; Prelude in D minor, BWV 926; Praeambulum in F major, BWV 927; Prelude in F major, BWV 928; Praeambulum in G minor, BWV 930; Little Preludes (6); Prelude in C major, BWV 939; Prelude in D minor, BWV 940; Prelude in E minor, BWV 941; Prelude in C major, BWV 943; Prelude for Lute in C minor, BWV 999; Sonata in D minor, BWV 964; Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 894; Prelude in A minor, BWV 942; Partitas for Keyboard (complete); Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 (complete); Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2 (complete); Overture in the French style in B minor, BWV 831; Italian Concerto, BWV 971; Duets for Organ (4); Capriccio in E major, BWV 993; Capriccio in B flat major on the Departure of his Most Beloved Brother, BWV 992; Goldberg Variations, BWV 988; Toccatas (complete); Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904; Aria Variata in a, BWV 989 "In the Italian Style"; Sonata in D major, BWV 963; Suite in F minor, BWV 823 [fragment]; Adagio in G major, BWV 968; Fugue in C major, BWV 953; Jesus, mein Zuversicht, BWV 728; Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten, BWV 691; Fugue in A minor, BWV 944; Partita in A major, BWV 832 – Angela Hewitt, piano – Hyperion 44421/35 (15 CDs plus sampler bonus disc), 17 hrs 39 mins [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
Angela Hewitt’s Bach is by now a known quantity, and has been received from degrees of rapture to—at the very least—well-meaning competence. Many of these discs have been covered in these pages as well, and I recently reviewed the second recording of the complete WTC, the recording included here, not her much earlier 2000 issue. Some will argue with this choice, as that version garnered a lot of praise; but so has this one, and I prefer it.
Some also might balk because a few of these discs were issued on SACD—I have a couple of them and will keep both. But this set is a treasure trove, and as you can get it for under a hundred bucks if you look hard enough, well worth the effort. Hewitt has recorded more Bach than anyone since her compatriot Glenn Gould, and a side-by-side comparison, as tempting as it might be, is also unfair as the two are very different players. Gould is visionary in his approach to Bach, sometimes radical in his interpretative nuances, and always probing into the inner mind of the composer. I find Hewitt much more adulatory, as if she is perhaps a little too aware of her fellow Canadian’s shadow, and more accepting of the need to bow in the presence of Bach’s genius. This sometimes keeps her from exploring this music as much as she should, or as deeply as she should. For example, her French Suites cannot outdo Gould; her English Suites are surpassed by Perahia’s recording on Sony; some of the Toccatas show more flair and energy in the hands of Argerich. But her Two and Three-Part Inventions are as good as you can get; the Italian Concerto is actually better than Gould’s; and her Goldbergs – while not a first-place ranking as the competition is almost too formidable to give way to any one recording – are certainly as fine as most. Sometimes her clarity is lacking in certain pieces, but in others she achieves a marvelous contrast of light, shading, and dynamics that few others reach.
Despite the felicities and foibles of her recordings, there are few performances available of this many of Bach’s works by one performer that reach such a high standard. While Perahia might claim superiority in the English Suites and Partitas, he also has not recorded all of the works given here and it is difficult to imagine even a pianist of his caliber being as successful in every work attempted as Hewitt is. Truly, there are no bad performances here, some revelatory, all enthralling, and even the “worst” ones never less than enjoyable. That sets a bar not likely to be surpassed anything soon, and is a remarkable milestone for the pianist.
Hyperion’s sound is excellent in every recording, and I have thoroughly enjoyed Hewitt’s tour through the Bach canon, though I will confess it would have been nice if the Piano Concertos had been included also. Never mind–if you are thinking already about Christmas or Hanukkah presents for that classical music-loving friend or family member, this is the place I would start.
— Steven Ritter