Dropping in on Hewitt’s Bach Odyssey

Angela Hewitt, Wigmore hall

Angela Hewitt’s stamina is impressive. Over the past four years her Bach Odyssey has taken her round the globe, playing every note of Bach’s vast keyboard oeuvre. She’s just finished a stint in Tokyo, a city where, she says, she is always guaranteed a great hall and a great piano, if no longer also the pullulating throng which classical concerts used to attract in that city. For that, she says, she has to go to China: ‘China is now where Japan was twenty years ago.’ Next year she’s going to allow herself a three-month rest: sensible, given that she also gives master-classes, has a festival in Perugia, and takes her Shostakovich words-and-music double-act with Julian Barnes round European and American cities.

At the Wigmore on October 25 we caught the latest lap of this project: three of the English Suites plus a sonata. Her sound was warm and full-blooded throughout the fourth and fifth suites, with the Sarabandes gracefully expressive and the Gigues exuberantly muscular, and the sixth was a brilliant tour de force. Its Prelude was majestic and its Sarabande brought a touch of sublimity, while its doubled Gavotte came with measured but eloquently speaking ornamentation; its extraordinary Gigue, which turns itself upside down and inside out, was exultantly martial in tone.

One of the virtues of this Odyssey is that forgotten works can surface, and this time it was the turn of Sonata in D BWV963, which I’d guess nobody present had ever heard. It dated from a time (1704) before the sonata had settled into its classical form, and was written in the manner of Johann Kuhnau whom Bach was to succeed as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. With fugues, recitatives, and bird calls, it came over as a delightful little fantasy, the antithesis to all the great works to come.

Couperin’s Le rossignol en amour made an exquisite coda to the evening.

This review will be published in the December issue of International Piano Magazine


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