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Angela Hewitt (Piano)

Angela Hewitt Bach’s Recital Disc on Hyperion

K-8

Bach: French Overture, Italian Concerto, Four Duets, Two Capriccios

Duets BWV 802-805 [2:45, 2:32, 3:24, 2:01]
French Overture in B minor, BWV 831 [30:00]
Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971 [12:47]
Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother in B flat major, BWV 992 [10:10]
Capriccio BWV 993 [5:13]

Angela Hewitt (Piano)

Hyperion

Oct 2000

CD / TT: 68:53

Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, London, England.
2nd recording of Duets BWV 802-805 by A. Hewitt. 2nd recording of Italian Concerto by A. Hewitt.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

Part 1

Donald Satz wrote (April 25, 2001):
Angela Hewitt appears to be on her way to recording all of Bach's keyboard works for Hyperion. Her latest venture covers five Bach keyboard compositions: French Overture, Italian Concerto, the Four Duets, Capriccio BWV 992, and Capriccio BWV 993. The Hyperion catalogue number is CDA 67306.

Reviews I have read of the new disc have all been highly complimentary. In this respect, she seems to get the same response as Perahia/Bach recordings. They can do no wrong. Personally, I find this treatment rather unreasonable. I have my share of reservations concerning even my favourite Bach performers such as Rosalyn Tureck, Gustav Leonhardt, and Glenn Gould. Nobody is perfect, and that surely includes Hewitt and Perahia. However, excellent mainstream recordings tend to elicit from most reviewers only raves without pointing out any perceived flaws.

Another interesting aspect I have noticed of the reviews of the new Hewitt disc is that little if any mention is made of a Bach recital CD she made for DG in 1986. That recording includes two of the works on the new disc: Italian Concerto and the Four Duets. In addition to comparing Hewitt's new disc to recorded performances from other artists, I will also dig into that previous DG/Hewitt recording concerning the two duplicated works.

French Overture in B minor BWV 831 - This is a 30-minute work, in fact exactly 30 minutes according to the Hewitt listed timings. It consists of a large-scale overture followed by a series of dance movements.

The overture is a masterful movement of great inspiration with a sequence of Grave-Allegro-Grave. In some recordings, a second Allegro and third Grave further extend the movement. The Grave is very subtle and reflective, but also emotionally rich and heroic. The Allegro is quite powerful music ranging from comforting and delicate to almost apocalyptic visions.

I have warm affection for the Koroliov overture on Hänssler; his Grave is gorgeous and very slow although the heroic element is downplayed. Tureck on Philips greatly emphasizes the inherent heroism of the Grave. Koroliov's Allegro is a whirlwind of excitement and macabre happenings easily surpassing the Tureck account. Even better is the Kenneth Gilbert overture on Harmonia Mundi, which has a highly heroic Grave of great beauty and an Allegro of equal intensity to Koroliov and greater display of detail and forward momentum. The overture would seem to be a natural for Glenn Gould, but his Grave has too many cute mannerisms and the Allegro finds him less inspired than usual with low excitement.

Hewitt's overture does not compare well to either Gilbert or Koroliov. Her Grave is very good, being quite heroic and poetic. The problem is the Allegro where she is not competitive. Excitement is low, the macabre element is virtually non-existent, and her accenting and pacing are sometimes questionable. The most significant negative in my view is her overall flow which lacks continuity. Also, she's one of the artists who add a third Allegro and second Grave. Considering the quality of the performance, 'additional' is not better.

The first dance movement is a French-style Courante. There are many recordings of this bitter/sweet music which are excellent: Tureck, Gould, Schepkin, Koroliov, and particularly Robert Woolley on EMI. Koroliov is very slow and maximizes the beauty of the piece as he did in the overture's Grave. Schepkin takes a very different approach; he is quite fast and uses a greater range of dynamics; still, the beauty shines through in Schepkin's reading. I don't know of any version slower than Gould's, but he comes through superbly with a heart-felt yet demonstrative performance. My favourite is from Woolley whose interplay between the voices is stunning.

Hewitt is competitive in the Courante but can't match the quality of performances mentioned above. She often uses a slight staccato exactly at the spots where I traditionally want legato; maybe I'd love a strong staccato approach, but I don't care for the way Hewitt sits on the fence.

Next comes the Gavotte I and II. In my review of the Koroliov/Bach recital disc back in July 2000, I stated that Rosalyn Tureck owns this music. Her version is ever so slow and detailed. The counterpoint is greatly highlighted and ornamentation outstanding. She is very playful and teasing in Gavotte I; exuberance is somewhat low, but she replaces it with a nobility that's irresistible. Her Gavotte II starts out heroically; I love that decision. The most amazing aspect of the performance is that it never drags; Gould is like lightning in comparison but my interest wans quickly.

I listened to Hewitt immediately after Tureck, which I suppose, wasn't a nice thing to do to Hewitt. Guess what? She sounds excellent. She's not at Tureck's magical level, but she invests Gavotte I with great exuberance and II is delicate and delightful. Hewitt's Gavotte series is much better than her overture and courante.

My current favourites for Passepied I and II are Woolley and Koroliov. Mr. Koroliov delivers the most exuberant Passepied I've heard yet; then he entirely switches gears with an absolutely lovely and delicate Passepied II. Woolley's Passepied I has infectious pacing/accenting; his Passepied II is the most uplifting I know. I'd also like to mention the Passepied I from Piotr Anderszewski on Harmonia Mundi's Les Nouveaux Interpreters series. The man wants nothing to do with exuberance; instead, he presents an almost hushed performance which is wonderful.

Hewitt's is one of the better performances of the Passepied series, especially in Passepied II which is just as lovely as the Koroliov version. However, Hewitt does not provide as high a level of exuberance as Koroliov in Passepied I nor is her pacing as irresistible as Woolley's.

The Sarabande is superbly served by Koroliov and Edward Aldwell on Biddulph. Koroliov's slow four minute reading is emotionally rich, beautiful, and has fantastic projection. Aldwell gives a three-minute performance, which also has great projection and feeling. Hewitt, like Koroliov, uses the four-minute tempo and matches Koroliov with an equally fine and similar performance.

Another dance series, the Bourree I and II, comes to centre stage. I find Anderszewski's version the best overall. His Bourree I is exciting with glowing bass projection; II is highly poetic and continues the superior left hand projection. In fact, I'd say that the balances between both hands is perfect. There's nothing close to perfect from Hewitt. Her Bourree I just don’t have much lift to it, and the bass contribution is disappointing. Bourree II is taken quickly and sounds rather perfunctory.

The Gigue has a strong heroic element, but the adjective I find best describes this music is "luxuriant". My current favourite comes from Anderszewski who provides great ceremony, projection, and poetry. Hewitt certainly delivers more lift here than in Bourree I with a very fine performance; I still prefer Anderszewski who provides greater continuity.

There aren't many compositions which end with an Echo movement, but the French Overture has a great one. The 'echo' effect refers to the alternating between piano and forte volume. Thimusic is vivacious, bubbly, and delightful. Tureck's slow version and Schiff's moderate paced reading are the best in my opinion. Tureck finds just the right balance between the volume extremes, and the slow pace allows all the delicious details to emerge. Schiff's is a highly vivacious interpretation. The main advantage of both versions is that neither loses momentum as volume changes suddenly. Hewitt does lose momentum as her soft tones can hardly be noticed. Overall, it's not a bad reading at all, but doesn't compare with the best.

That's it for Hewitt's French Overture - nothing special at any point in the performance, but it is a competitive version overall. I prefer it to the Schiff and Schepkin recordings, but most of the alternatives I find superior to the Hewitt version. Her overture and Bouree series are not to my liking. The other movements are fine but not distinguished except for the Sarabande.

Let's see if Hewitt improves in the Four Duets BWV 802-805. For these works, she is also up against her previous recording for DG.

Duet in E minor, BWV 802 - I love the Nikolayeva version on Hyperion and Hewitt's on DG. Nikolayeva is stark and aristocratic; Hewitt/DG is soft with a hushed mystery hanging over it. Hewitt's new performance is clearly quicker than the older one and less mysterious; however, it compensates with greater forward momentum and actually sounds like a cross between her former self and Nikolayeva. These three performances are the best around.

Duet in F major, BWV 803 - This Duet is a two-part fugue with a strong and joyful first section and second section in the minor mode, which is strongly chromatic with stretti, inversion, and double counterpoint. I've enjoyed Woolley's version the most, particularly his incisive second section. Hewitt/DG is one of the better versions with a joy-filled and infectious reading of the first section; her second section isn't sufficiently angular and using the piano isn't a good excuse as Koroliov shows plenty of angularity. Hewitt's Hyperion effort is just as good as the DG in the first section and better in the second; she has enhanced the level of angularity and the projection is an improvement as well. Even if I still have a preference for Woolley, Hewitt is very close to his level.

Duet in G major, BWV 804 - This joyful music has a strong hint of mystery and is quite delicate. Semiquavers give the music its vitality and mystery. Hewitt/DG along with Kenneth Gilbert deliver the best performances. Hewitt nearly puts me into a trance as she glides through the music with great poetry and legato flow. In her new effort, there is stronger projection which is likely coming from both Hewitt and the sound engineering. The result is less trance but more stature and nobility; both versions are wonderful.

Duet in A minor, BWV 805 - Here we have my most loved Duet. It's a two-part fugue of great emotional depth and breadth. Beauty, tenderness, mystery, and joy combine for one of Bach's greatest keyboard achievements. I consider myself to be very fortunate to know three outstanding recorded performances: Schepkin, Peter Serkin on RCA, Nikolayeva, and Koroliov. Schepkin has a wonderful elegance and Serkin is all about a delicate mystery and great expansiveness. Those two give three minute readings; Nikolayeva extends to over four minutes with a stately performance of exquisite beauty and insight. Koroliov doesn't think that four minutes is nearly enough; the risk taker offers over six minutes of the Duet. It's like music from another world telling a full-length story. Actually, listening to the four versions today, I believe that Schepkin doesn't belong in this deservedly exalted company; he just doesn't provide the level of beauty and mystery they offer.

But what about the Hewitt's? Well, the A minor was the Achilles Heel for Hewitt on the DG issue or so I thought at the time. I've come to appreciate her approach which is very fast (two minutes) and quite bellicose and martial. I still don't think that she provides the wealth of diversity of the best versions, but hers almost makes me want to enlist in the military and kick some ass. It is a stirring rendition. Does the same apply to her new Hyperion version? Being even faster than the DG issue, I thought the answer would be yes, but that was bad thinking on my part. She's now less militaristic, taking a softer and more gentle stand. I don't believe she makes a good decision here at all. Much of the distinctiveness of her previous performance is shot to hell. If you own the Hyperion and not the DG, you might well think Hewitt's got plenty of martial weight in her reading; trust me, it's low octane compared to the DG performance.

I end up preferring both Hewitt versions of the Four Duets to any others I've heard. Although I am disappointed in the lower voltage of the new A minor compared to the older one, there are a few points where the new set is more to my liking.

In Part II, I'll review the two Capriccios and the Italian Concerto. So far, the Hyperion recording is a mixed bag. Hewitt's Four Duets are among the best with the exception of the A minor. However, she already has a great set on DG. Her French Overture is not on DG and therefore possesses greater significance to me; I can't say I'm impressed with the performance. For this new disc to rate a strong recommendation, Hewitt's readings of the remaining three works will have to be mighty fine.

 

Part 2

Donald Satz wrote (April 26, 2001):
Capriccio in B flat major, BWV 992 - Judged by the infrequency of recordings, this work is not one that the typical Bach enthusiast loves. But I love it dearly. It's a heart-felt piece of music with a strong element of heroism. Joseph Banowetz on Naxos gives my favorite piano performance; he provides great depth, heroism, and poetry; my only reservation is the concluding fugue section where I would prefer a more fluid delivery. Suzuki, on BIS and harpsichord, presents a knock-out of a performance. His harpsichord is exquisitely delicate yet strongly projected. Suzuki seems like he's inside the music totally. If I had a beloved brother, I'd want Suzuki's version at the farewell.

Hewitt's opening Arioso just isn't as beautifully packaged and doesn't flow as well as in the Banowetz version. However, the following Andante is revelatory with its fantastic pacing, accenting, and urgency. The central Adagissimo is gorgeous in Hewitt's hands. The supreme heroism in the Aria di postiglione is well displayed by Hewitt, but she shortens some note values through use of a mild staccato; this decision is not to my liking. Heroism and triumph are prevalent in the concluding fugue, but as in the Banowetz version, a more fluid delivery would be appreciated.

For BWV 992, Hewitt gives a fine performance, almost up to the level of Banowetz. However, there are a couple of blots which take it out of Suzuki's league.

The Capriccio in E major, BWV 993 is even less frequent a resident on recordings than the B flat major. I can understand its relative neglect; the work has no wonderful melody lines. However, it does have great momentum and vitality; also, it's very interesting to listen to the interplay of voices. Hewitt provides all this in full measure. She keeps momentum strong and is appropriately demonstrative and quite exciting. I like Suzuki's version very much but Hewitt's is better as it has greater poetry and excitement.

Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971 - Hewitt's DG performances are fine in the outer movements and there's likely no better Andante than the one from Hewitt which is so conversational. I also listened to the Gould and Banowetz versions which are also excellent. The new offering from Hewitt isn't quite as good as the previous effort due to an Andante which is not as fluid or stunning. The outer movements are very rewarding, particularly the third movement has great drive and excitement.

Don's Conclusions - Angela Hewitt's new Bach recital disc is superfluous if you already have her DG recording. First, the newer versions of the Italian Concerto and the Four Duets present no improvement over the earlier performances. Most important, the items new to Hewitt's discography are not particularly distinguished except for the Capriccio BWV 993, and there isn't much competition for this work.

For those not having the DG issue, the Hyperion is a worthy acquisition. But this disc is not as fine as her WTC sets or Goldberg Variations. Overall, the performances are not as fluid as those of the best versions or Hewitt herself when she's at her most compelling. My head tells me that she doesn't clip notes on the new disc, but my heart says otherwise. I could have compared her readings to others which are worthy and not much more, but that's not my regimen. I always seek out the best alternatives from my viewpoint, and that's especially significant when the artist is highly touted. It leads to the question of whether the raves are warranted. In Hewitt's case, sometimes they are warranted. However, her recital disc is not in that category. I'm going to be attending a Hewitt concert in May and will report back to the List with my thoughts. I'm going to be very disappointed if she plays little or no Bach, but reports are that she abandons him at some of her concerts. I have my fingers crossed.

 

Duets BWV 802-805: Details
Recordings:
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
Duets - A. Hewitt | Duets - E. Koroliov | Duets - Steurman | Duets - M. Suzuki | Duets - R. Tureck | Duets - G. Weir
General Discussions:
Part 1

Angela Hewitt: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
A Stunning New Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2 / Bach Recording for 1999 | Review: Toccatas played by Angela Hewitt | Hewitt’s English Suites | Review: Hewitt’s Goldberg Variations | Angela Hewitt Bach’s Recital Disc on Hyperion | Hewitt Bach arrangements [Bright] | New Album by Angela Hewitt [McElhearn]

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Last update: ýDecember 20, 2006 ý09:28:54