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This delightful disc offers a selection from the wealth of piano transcriptions of Bach's music. The Bach revival that gathered momentum during the nineteenth century created a climate for many composer-pianists to interpret his works through their own piano transcriptions, whether of chorale preludes, organ works or other instrumental music. Much of Bach's music was made domestically available via such arrangements (and the tradition continued well into the twentieth century, even after Bach originals were well known). Indeed, the practice of such transcriptions was widely used by Bach himself, who freely adapted his own and others' music for different instrumental settings. One of today's finest Bach pianists, Angela Hewitt concentrates primarily on those arrangements of Bach that keep pianistic elaboration and virtuosity in proportion: whatever instrument his music is played on, Bach should still sound like Bach. Eugen d'Albert's magnificent transcription of the C minor Passacaglia and Fugue for organ, BWV582, is included, as are five beautiful transcriptions by Wilhelm Kempff, and a number of arrangements by English composers that were included in A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen (a collection compiled for the pianist Harriet Cohen, who knew many English composers of the early twentieth century). Angela Hewitt also includes three transcriptions of her own. A fascinating companion to Angela Hewitt's acclaimed Bach recordings for Hyperion, this ravishing disc will appeal to lovers of Bach as much as connoisseurs of the piano.
BEST CLASSICAL ALBUM (SOLO OR CHAMBER), JUNO AWARDS 2002 'A magnificent addition to both the Bach repertoire and Angela Hewitt's artistically unparallelled survey of Bach's keyboard compositions' (Fanfare, USA) 'One of the foremost Bach interpreters of our time, Hewitt brings her own distinctive timing and touch. She makes the most of the piano s sonority ... demonstrating remarkable finger strength in sustaining the various lines of Bach's melodies and counter-melodies and effectively drawing out the tenderness, vigour and serenity of the music. [An] attractive and impressive recording' (The Inverness Courier) 'A collection of rarities and oddities that makes for enjoyable listening. The quality of the Hyperion recording is excellent, with the right balance of ambience and instrument in the fine sounding Henry Wood Hall' --(Pianist Magazine)
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She opens with the grand "Sinfonia in D major" (an organ work), a fireworks-filled piece, softening with the gentle and poignant "Siciliano in G minor" (written for the flute), then turns grave with the sarabande-like "Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland." The joy in "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" is revealed by Ms. Hewitt's sprightly playing, while the drama in the "Passacaglia in C minor" (the longest piece of the set) unfolds with an understated grandeur. The famous "Jesu, joy of man's desiring," with its elegant tempo and looped melody, has not been left out, and neither has Ms. Hewitt's favorite encore, the lovely "Sheep may safely graze."
Although well-known names make up the list of transcribers (Wilhelm Kempff, Myra Hess, Mary Howe, William Walton, Harold Bauer, just to mention a few), Ms. Hewitt herself contributes three of her own transcriptions from the "Orgelbuchlein" to the lot. Her sterling touch is exquisite, her playing translucent, sparkling and meticulously articulate without being petty, grand without being showy. The Steinway piano she plays upon deserves praise as well, with all its 88 deep, rounded tones a joy to listen to.
The seventeen pages of excellent notes (by Ms. Hewitt) offer a wealth of information that educates and amuses. Few album notes are as well-written as these, and with the help of a basic music dictionary, the average listener can only profit greatly from them.
Highly recommended with no reservations whatsoever.
The playing is, of course, elegant, musical, even thrilling in places. Some old favorites are here--Dame Myra's 'Jesu, joy of man's desiring,' d'Albert's monumental 'Passacaglia in c minor, BWV 582.' But there are some transcriptions I'd never heard before--Lord Berners's 'In dulci jubilo,' Bauer's scrumptious 'Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen.' Altogether a worthy program in the lifelike sound Hyperion always seems to provide for its stable of wonderful pianists. Indeed, I can't think of a single criticism I'd want to make.
The disc starts with five excellent choices of transcriptions by Wilhelm Kempf. The first is simply splendid, namely the Sinfonia in D major. Perhaps this is the most convincing of all the works in terms of the piano being the right instrument for the music. "Wachet auf" is also peformed very well.
Next are two lovely pieces, the Mary Howe transcription of "Sheep may safely graze," and the Myra Hess transcription of "Jesu, joy of man's desiring." These are my favorites on the entire disc.
Another beautiful piece that Hewitt plays very gracefully is Harriet Cohen's transcripition of "Sanctify us by Thy goodness."
Hewitt is spectacular in the toughest piece, the Eugen d'Albert transcription of the famous Passacaglia in C minor. This piece sounds really good on the piano, but I have to admit that I miss the pedal notes.
I highly recommend this beautiful set of Bach arrangements.
In her most-informative notes, Hewitt points out how "the ability to translate spirituality into sound at the keyboard is of certainly important to avoid famous tunes sounding banal or hacknayed." Her versions of the famous "Jesu" and "Sheep may safely graze" (as well as her own three lovely transcriptions) do seem to succeed in conveying a spiritual core to avoid sounding trite. In the great Bach pastoral work ("Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring"), Hewitt convincingly summons the nurturing personna of Dame Myra Hess who played her piano transcription of this choral work almost daily over BBC radio to comfort many in hardship during the great war. Maybe in a couple pieces, as some suggest, Ms. Hewitt draws out her tempos a bit, but I found this gave the piece a more introspective tone that I appreciated later upon further listening. Other works on a more grand scale (like the Passacaglia for organ) reveal Bach as a daunting church composer and sound reasonably authoritive on Hewitt's piano. Her best pieces here may be also her most personally involved ones - her own three transcriptions - which embody a most moving, introspective and heartwarming quality. I think these are a humble highlight of the set.
The Hyperion sound is clear and full bodied while the substantial CD notes offer valuable history of the transciptions and Ms. Hewitt's perspectives on how she approached them. Significant coverage is given to the past legends of the piano like Kempff, Hess, Howells, d'Albert that will be appreciated especially by pianists. In short, a unique, spiritual and lovely set of recordings in Angela Hewitt's ever-growing quiver of Bach recordings. Compositions - 5 stars; Performance - 5 stars; Sound - 4 stars.