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Bach: The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 2
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) : Concerto pour clavecin en la majeur, BWV 1055 - Concerto pour clavecin en ré majeur, BWV 1054 - Concerto pour clavecin en mi majeur, BWV 1053 - Concerto pour clavecin en fa mineur, BWV 1056 - Concerto pour clavecin et 2 flûtes à bec en fa majeur, BWV 1057 / Alison Mitchell (flûte) - Angela Hewitt (piano) - Emma Sholl (flûte) - Australian Chamber Orchestra - Richard Tognetti
GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE CD OF THE MONTH (Gramophone Magazine) CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK (The Sunday Times) ALBUM OF THE WEEK (Musicweek) CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK (The Daily Telegraph) DISC OF THE MONTH (Classic FM Magazine) 'Her [Hewitt's] playing is absolutely captivating: she decorates the solo part with playful, come-hither ornamentation - twirls, flutters, arabesques - and yet it never disturbs the clear, logical path she forges through the course of each work. Her staccato touch has the force of sprung steel and yet her legato line is a miracle of smoothness and transparency. An absolute joy' (Metro) 'Hewitt's Bach is well-known for its expressive restraint, lucid textures and rhythmic grace. These virtues are abundantly present in her thoughtful, unmannered approach to the Concertos. Contrapuntal arguments are admirably clear and Hewitt's restricted use of the sustaining pedal ensures a pleasing clarity of dialogue. These virtues are mirrored by the lightly articulated bowing of the strings of the Australian Chamber Orchestra under the direction of its leader Richard Tognetti … My own prefernce lies just with Hewitt and her Australian musicians' (BBC Music Magazine) 'As always, she [Hewitt] really sparkles in the allegros, infusing the music with wit as well as technical bravura' (Sunday Times) 'The familiar argument that Bach would have written for a piano if only he had had one is nowhere given more persuasive advocacy than in Hewitt's singing melodic lines, her judicious range of tonal colouring and in her touch, which combines the crispness and full flavour of a fresh apple. Take a bite of any of these concertos, and you will want to make a whole meal of them' (The Daily Telegraph) 'The result of their historically informed modern-instrument take on the music is stunning, with crisp rhythms and singing melodic lines' (Classic FM Magazine) 'Her [Hewitt's] playing is absolutely captivating: she decorates the solo part with playful, come-hither ornamentation - twirls, flutters, arabesques - and yet it never disturbs the clear, logical path she forges through the course of each work. Her staccato touch has the force of sprung steel and yet her legato line is a miracle of smoothness and transparency. An absolute joy' (Metro) 'Hewitt's performances are brilliantly alive. Her subtle lyricism adds a rich, occasionally dark dimension, possibly not as Bach himself would have envisaged, but always with a deep sense of musical integrity' (The Scotsman) 'Here the Fazioli is heard at its exquisite best, its spongey bass chords pumping with clarity, its treble caressing a heart-tuggingly beautiful legato out of the slow movement, while the dainty strings sketch an almost tongue-in-cheek pizzicato in the background. Hewitt's sense of phrase is masterful … the statements have regal import under the authoritative hands of this queen of keyboard playing' (The Times) 'Her fingers dance as well as sing: in the outer movements, rhythms are buoyantly sprung, and this communicates itself to the members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, whose slender string accompaniment in no way lessens their energy, while Hewitt responds by projecting the piano parts with all due attention to Bach's overall texture' --(International Record Review)
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Hewitt chose the Australian Chamber Orchestra after playing these works for many months with several orchestras around the world. Just hearing the first few bars of the first movement of the 6th concerto reveals how perfect Hewitt and the ACO are for each other and this music. The ACO's style and judgment are always in pefect compliment to Hewitt's playing - never overwhelming or underwhelming her gorgeous lines. If you prefer the more intimate dialog and effect of a smaller orchestra compared to the drama and power of a larger one, these performances should delight. There is a wonderful, chamber-like interaction and relaxed musicianship here that makes these performances rather irresistable and highly refreshing.
Compared to other "reference" recordings, there is more of a carefree flow of tempo - and really charm - in the Hewitt/ACO performances which have a Spring-like freshness in their appeal. Hewitt's playing is both delicate but completely commanding at the same time and blends wonderfully with the feathery tones of the two flute soloists and Richard Tognetti's masterfully appealing violin interludes. All use modern instruments, yet retain appropriate period mannerisms with sonorities that are beautiful, enhanced by superb Hyperion sound engineering. While Miss Hewitt could easily take over with her powerful Fazioli Concert Grand, she use finesse and nuance to create a more gentle interaction with the lithe ACO.
Having ten years of Bach recordings under her belt shows clearly in Hewitt's natural, at-one flow with the music - like she has penetrated the life within the music and just exudes it the most natural and intended manner like breathing. Her lines are sure and elegant and her ornamentations support the overall melody in the most delightful way that does not draw attention to the performer. Her bass 'flutters' are particularly appealing and inject nuances of artistry and excitement. This is music of top caliber and performances to be celebrated that have a timeless, ever-fresh quality that should wear well through the years. Such performances as this are one reason Miss Hewitt won the 2006 Gramophone "Artist of the Year" award.
The music industry reviews of these July '05 releases were on the positive side overall. ClassicsToday gave both CD's glowing reviews and a perfect 10/10 for Artistry/Sound Quality with Gramphone giving both discs the highest "Gem" award. Sound quality is excellent with even the non-SACD sounding brilliant and without fault (perfect balance, clarity of solists and depth of tonal textures). And with these concertos, Miss Hewitt completes her decade-long Bach traversal with a grand crescendo. Note: Both discs are available in one set as well. A real winner. Compositions - 5 stars; Performance - 5 stars; Sound quality - 5 stars.
While some period purists, myself usually included, would cry foul at the inclusion of a modern grand piano in these concerti, I think it useful to remember that Bach was not ignorant of the pianoforte and its capabilities. In 1747, Bach was invited to the Court of Prussian Emperor Frederick the Great at Berlin where he was asked to test out the Silbermann pianofortes (the pianoforte was invented in 1709. Bach's prowess on the instrument so impressed the Emperor, that he asked Bach to improvise on a subject of his (the Emperor's) own invention, from which came the Musical Offering.
The modern piano is completely capable of overpowering a baroque chamber orchestra and to Hewitt's credit, she never exceeds the bounds of good taste and dignity by descending to the bombast that could potentially ruin this music and turn the soloist into the proverbial bull in a china shop. That is not to say that her interpretations are sterile and uninteresting; The very nature of the piano provides for a timbral and dynamic expressiveness unattainable on the harpsichord, and the soloist uses these effects to their best within the limits of the genre-conforming the piano to Bach and not Bach to the piano.
The 5th Brandenburg concerto, while obviously not 'authentic' is played with such grace and deference to the music and the other soloists that it becomes a joy to listen to. The flautist and violinist in the Brandenburg and triple concerti as well as the flautists in the 5th concerto, although playing modern instruments, are nonetheless gracious in their interpretation, once again conforming their instruments and technique to the music and not the other way around.
The Orchestra's performance is excellent. Though not perfoming on period instruments, they maintain the clear, precise timbre of a baroque orchestra. While the literal meaning of concerto may mean contest, the baroque concerto is less a contest and more of a cooperation of solo and orchestral forces than its romantic descendant which is almost a battle at times. The result is that neither soloist nor orchestra usurps the other's place in the music.
In the end, This performance, while not a period performance, is definitely not a romantic interpretation either and deserves to be heard if for no other reason than that it is a new take on these musical gems.
The Australian orchestra has been touted as the perfect accompaniment for Ms. Hewitt's artistry, and I have to agree; I heard a lot to like in this recording. For one thing, the instrumental solos and duos are often brought out as if the orchestra were made up of soloists. This is in a way in the Baroque tradition, where the instrumental parts may have been made up to highlight a well-known player, or even royalty (ie, Fredrick II of Prussia was a skilled amateur, and Quantz and other composers wrote pieces to fit his ability on the flute.)
The recording seems to have been manipulated in studio to push the piano back as a "continuo" when the concerti start, then push it forward when it is a solo. I find this strange to my ears; I'd have rather heard a natural, live mic and not this conceit. The sound in general is a bit muddy.
However, Angela Hewitt's interpretations of Bach are wonderful. She has a slightly dry tone that occasionally gets a bit more dewy and soft but never syrupy. Her agile trills and ornaments are never overdone or beg for huge attention. Her tempo is measured, not hasty or saggy-slow. There is a definite mind and taste behind these Bach concerti, not as eccentric as Gould's, but certainly a unique interpretation and well adapted to the piano. I like that this is not a "let's get back to 18th Century authentic instruments" because I really don't care for the tinny sound of the pianoforte and if it's harpsichord, well, that's another thing entirely. This is a great PIANO interpretation.
I particularly like her interpretation of Concerto for No. 2 in E major and the No. 5 in F minor, which was a piece I played as a student. (The second movement is may be familiar to you as an orchestral rendition in the film Slaughterhouse Five --the music that played when Billy Pilgrim was moved through time.
All in all, a great interpretation, a welcome CD and I hope Angela Hewitt will continue to record Bach, Mozart and other great works for the piano.
Something I have not heard her mention- the linage to Glenn Gould- a fellow Canadian- one hesitates to say she does it better- but she definitely stands on Glenn's shoulders...just as Fazioli pianos stand on the shoulders of Steinways.
But naturally- she does do it better- she has the talent. I can't imagine the person who will come along next?!?!?!?
Her Bach is the next great thing after Glenn. In her master classes on You Tube, she sort of puts down the G G detached style- and yet...she uses it too; some times.
Her concertos are delicate and expressive and full of additions Bach would surely love. She varies the dynamics. Her Australian co mates do the concertos justice with no nonsense baroque punctuation...there is no lingering and no drawn out finales.