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Hyperion Records

CDA67499 - Bach: Fantasia, Aria & other works

Recording details: February 2004
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: July 2004
Total duration: 67 minutes 30 seconds


THE BEST OF 2004 (Goldberg Early Music Magazine)

'Here is another out and out winner from Angela Hewitt … The hallmark of her playing derives from just such a sharp definition of musical character. Be it light or solemn, her outlook on Bach is consistently enlivening' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Hewitt plays all of this unfamiliar material with her usual flair and beguiling sound' (Sunday Times)

'when Hewitt's technical refinement merges with the spirit as well as the letter of the music, miracles happen' (BBC Music Magazine)

'the statuesque, beautiful, and brilliantly gifted Angela Hewitt has now joined the ranks of the great interpreters of Bach's keyboard music, and the effortless and natural readings on this and the other CDs in her cycle for Hyperion unquestionably number among the finest available. After discussion, debate—call it what you will—Angela Hewitt's recordings may be deemed unquestionably definitive' (Fanfare)

'Hewitt's playing is tremendously well thought-out, the contrapuntal lines always shining clear, the articulation sprightly and the musicality unfailing' (Classic FM Magazine)

'This disc makes a piquant, unexpected conclusion to Hewitt's Bach cycle. Her many admirers will want to acquire it' (International Record Review)

'a series of performances where freedom over articulation, phrasing, embellishment, dynamics and tempo is governed by an artistic sense of responsibility; and the whole recital is heard in a shrewdly balanced recording of fine tonal verisimilitude' (Gramophone)

'She continues to display the virtues that have made her one of the foremost Bach pianists on record, including beautiful tone, textural clarity, acute sensitivity to patterns of tension and resolution, a strong sense of dance, and refined attention to detail … In sum, a beautiful, profoundly satisfying recital and a fitting conclusion to a landmark series' (Goldberg Early Music Magazine)

'Hewitt has already exhausted the supply of critical superlatives in her devotion to Bach. Those who have loyally followed the Hyperion cycle will find that this terminal issue meets and exceeds the stringent standards which she set for herself. Hewitt presents a Bach of sensitivity and integrity for our time and always. Enjoyment of the disc is enhanced by the performer's lively and informative booklet note. Conventional CD sound quality is in the demonstration class. SACD playback (stereo is preferable to multi-channel) is as close as most of us will ever get to having Miss Hewitt and her concert Steinway perform in our listening rooms' ('La Scena Musicale' Quebec)

'Angela Hewitt continues to confirm her status among pre-eminent Bach specialists…the individual pieces and Suites consitently reward the ear—novel and timeless at once' (Audiophile Audition)

Fantasia, Aria & other works
Fantasia  [3'37]
Fugue  [4'22]
Theme: Aria  [2'15]
Variation 2  [1'19]
Variation 3  [1'24]
Variation 9  [0'59]
Variation 10  [2'42]
[no title]  [2'35]
[no title]  [1'08]
Fugue  [2'13]
Adagio  [1'01]
Allemande  [2'03]
Sarabande  [1'45]
Bourrée  [1'04]
Gigue  [1'20]
Prélude  [2'08]
Gigue  [2'02]
Fantasia  [0'56]
Fugue  [4'54]

Hyperion’s Record of the Month for July sees Angela Hewitt rounding off her acclaimed series of solo Bach recordings with this delightful miscellany. A range of genres are represented—fantasia and fugues, chorale preludes, suites, a sonata, a set of variations—from different periods of Bach’s life, and displaying a wide variety of form, style, influence and scope. This is music that has been neglected largely because it doesn’t sit within the famous Bach canons rather than because of its intrinsic quality.

Angela Hewitt brings her customary style and elegance to these works, and her vivid, joyous music-making creates a fitting conclusion to this benchmark modern survey of Bach’s keyboard works.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Angela Hewitt writes … On this, the last planned CD of solo keyboard works by Johann Sebastian Bach in my cycle for Hyperion, I have put together a programme of separate pieces from different periods of Bach’s life. I am well aware that there are others that I have not included, but, with the exception of The Art of Fugue and the two Ricercars from The Musical Offering (as well as the easy pieces from the Anna Magdalena Notebook), I believe these to be ‘the best of the rest’. Arranged as they are on this CD, they also show Bach’s great variety of form, style, influence and scope.

Two pieces entitled Fantasia and Fugue in A minor begin and end this recording. They probably date from the end of Bach’s stay in Weimar (1714–1717) because of their similarity to the big organ works known to have been composed at that time, and to his wonderful Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV903, for harpsichord. The first one, BWV904, does indeed seem like an organ piece at times. It is not hard to imagine the descending bass at the opening of the fantasia doubled by the pedals, giving it even more gravity and weight than it already has. (Some pianists try to imitate this by adding the extra octave, but this is a case where that can only be done with the addition of a lot of sustaining pedal, thus blurring the wonderful counterpoint.) It is marked alla breve and resembles the stile antico style of writing (the Baroque adaptation of Renaissance polyphony). The opening ritornello appears four times with three interspersed episodes, all emphasizing the contrapuntal nature of the piece. The fugue has two subjects: the first boldly characterized by leaps and punctuated by rests; the second a slow, descending chromatic scale that makes a dramatic appearance halfway through. They could not be more different. But that is exactly what Bach wants, especially when he combines the two in the final section. That way there are easily distinguishable. Making that audible to the listener, however, is not easy as his counterpoint in this case is awkward and doesn’t lie well under the fingers. It is thought that Bach was not responsible for placing these two movements together; in fact they don’t appear that way until early in the nineteenth century – and then only by accident. However, I don’t think we would realize this if we didn’t already know, as they make such good companions.

The other A minor Fantasia and Fugue, BWV944, is another kettle of fish. Here we really have a case of a free fantasia and a brilliant, virtuoso fugue. It appears in the so-called Andreas Bach Book – a collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century keyboard works by many composers, including J S Bach, put together by Bach’s oldest brother and former keyboard teacher, Johann Christoph Bach. Andreas Bach (1713–1779) was the latter’s youngest son. Many later sources only give the fugue without the fantasia. Mind you, it is hardly a fantasia, simply ten bars of chords marked ‘arpeggio’ with no indication given as to how they should be played. Bach used this notation in the first versions of the Preludes in C major (Book I) and C sharp major (Book II) of The Well-Tempered Clavier. With both he ultimately did something quite magical. Taking the C sharp major Prelude as my inspiration (but without Bach’s genius, for sure!), I have concocted a figuration that at least stays faithful to the harmonies he outlined. This is, however, only a brief warming-up for what is to come: the whirlwind, moto perpetuo fugue gives us no time to dally. It is long so it needs to move if we aren’t to lose interest. Two pedal points help to build up the excitement, along with stabbing crotchets. The end comes so suddenly that we are almost taken aback; but that must have been what Bach wanted as the last chord is written as a crotchet followed by rests. No long drawn-out ending here.

Another work in A minor that appears in the Andreas Bach Book is the Aria Variata ‘alla Maniera Italiana’, BWV989. It probably dates from 1709, so is a relatively early work. In many ways it is similar to the organ chorale partitas (the theme here also has a chordal setting), but there are also things it shares with the ‘Goldberg’ Variations. The aria, for instance, is repeated at the end, although in BWV989 it is not an exact reiteration but rather another variation (the last, No X) with some slight changes. Still, it is moving to return to the mood of the opening, especially after the brilliance of the preceding two variations. Also like the ‘Goldberg’, the variations are based on the harmonic outline rather than on the opening melody. Each variation is in binary form (two sections, both repeated) and often requires some appropriate ornamentation to sustain the interest. Several different versions of the theme exist, the one in the Andreas Bach Book being by far the most richly ornamented. Not wanting to omit that one, yet liking the plainer outline of the theme for its initial statement, I include it on the repeat. There are some extremely wide stretches for the hands (in fact not just wide but impossible), making us think that perhaps it was written for some kind of pedal harpsichord. A few tempo indications have survived, but one in particular is a bit strange (largo for Variation I which seems crazy given the sparse material and rhythmic motive). In the end, musical common sense has to be used.

Another early work is the Sonata in D major, BWV963. This is the only keyboard sonata by Bach that is, as far as we know, both totally original (several others use material by Reinken) and not a transcription (as is his Sonata in D minor, BWV964, which can be heard on CDA67121/2). It could also be named ‘Toccata’, as its form is very similar to the keyboard pieces of that title, except for the omission of an opening flourish. The Sonata has five sections of which two are contrasting fugues. It opens with a very instrumental-like movement using antiphonal entries and with that feeling of festivity that so often comes with the key of D major in Bach. Then suddenly arrives an F sharp major chord, announcing a brief improvisation that seems to require the use of organ pedals to sustain the bass notes (I make use of the middle or sostenuto pedal to do the trick). This leads us nicely into the first fugue which is in B minor. Despite its rather percussive subject (four repeated notes) it remains calm and doesn’t get too excited. Another brief passage marked adagio uses the same musical material repeated many times to take us to the point where Bach wants to go (as he does in both the D minor and F sharp minor Toccatas). Finally we have the closing fugue, now firmly back in D major. Its title is intriguing: Thema all’ imitatio Gallina Cuccu (‘Theme in imitation of the chicken and the cuckoo’). And yes, there is the hen clucking away in the subject, and the cuckoo doing its thing in the countersubject. By the end, it’s quite a noisy farmyard! This was not the first time a composer had written a piece using bird-calls: Frescobaldi evidently wrote a Capriccio sopra il Cucco in 1624. It may not be Bach’s greatest inspiration, but it is amusing and brings this Sonata to a lively conclusion.

If the Sonata could be called ‘Toccata’, then the next work, the Partie in A major, BWV832, could and has been called ‘Suite’. Two of its movements (the Allemande and the Air) appear in the Möller Manuscript (another collection of keyboard works put together by Johann Christoph Bach) under that title. It is definitely a suite in the French style – a precursor to the French Suites – with its standard movements of Allemande, Sarabande and Gigue, to which is added a characteristic Bourrée. In place of a courante, however, Bach writes an ‘Air pour les trompettes’, which is really what made me want to play this suite. It is quite unique in Bach’s solo keyboard music and deserves to be heard. The mood reminds me of the final movements of the Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother, BWV993, and the posthorn we hear there makes another appearance in bar 21 of this Air. It is by far the most original part of the work. This suite was for a long time thought to be by Telemann.

Another suite (although possibly only a fragment of one) which deserves more frequent hearings is the Suite in F minor, BWV823. The beauty of the Sarabande alone makes it worth playing. Again we have a very French flavour, beginning with the Prélude which is a poised Rondeau with three couplets. The Sarabande is also ‘en Rondeau’ and is marked da capo. The authenticity of this suite has been questioned, but surely this movement carries the stamp of J S Bach. The Gigue is a ‘canarie’, the lightly tripping kind that we find elsewhere in his keyboard works, notably in the French Overture, the B minor French Suite, and variation 7 of the ‘Goldberg’.

Now we come to something quite different, and the one work on this CD whose authorship is still dubious. The Adagio in G major, BWV968 is a transcription of the opening movement of Bach’s Sonata for solo violin in C major, BWV1005. Along with the Sonata in D minor (a transcription of the solo violin Sonata in A minor, BWV1003), it has been passed down to us in a copy made by Altnikol, Bach’s pupil and son-in-law. Another Bach pupil, Agricola, stated in 1775 that Bach often played transcriptions of his works for solo stringed instruments on the clavichord, so this was an accepted practice. Still, the Neue Bach-Ausgabe claims it not to be authentic, and the name that most frequently appears as the possible author is Bach’s son, Wilhelm Friedemann. I have included it here first of all because it is a strange and beautiful work (and having already recorded the D minor Sonata I didn’t want to omit it), and also because I have had several requests to do so. Notoriously difficult to play on the violin, these pieces are technically easier on the piano, although the musical demands are equal if not greater. I am told that when Gustav Leonhardt played (or perhaps still plays) it as an encore, he added the words, “To vex violinists!”. Bach (or whoever) omits one bar from the original, but fills in the harmonies with often daring results. Ornaments appear on each beat of the first bar which should be repeated throughout. They are absent from the violin version, but then notes can be more easily sustained on that instrument. Surely whoever made this transcription intended to do the same with the other movements, but either these were never completed or else they have been lost. So we end on the dominant, at peace but expecting something else.

As no separate fugue exists in G major, I decided to follow it with the Fugue in C major, BWV953. It is to be found in the Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach which also contains the first drafts of the Inventions, Sinfonias, and eleven of the Preludes from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier. The main point of interest here is its resemblance to the C major Fugue in Book II of the ‘48’ – also in three parts, also largely made up of running semiquavers, and in the same joyous mood.

So far on this CD we have had two large-scale fantasias and fugues, a set of variations, two suites, a sonata and a transcription – so I thought it would be apt to include two chorale preludes; after all that was a genre in which Bach left us some of his most moving music. Both Jesu, meine Zuversicht, BWV728 (‘Jesus, my assurance’) and Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten, BWV691 (‘He who trusts in God’) appear in notebooks for family members (Wilhelm Friedemann and Anna Magdalena respectively) and were no doubt used as models for subsequent improvisations. They are both of the type in which a chorale melody, elaborately decorated, is played in the right hand, accompanied by two voices in the left. On the organ the melody could be played ‘solo’ on one manual, accompanied by the others on a softer one. On the piano different colours can be used to achieve a similar effect. Elaborate yet simple; intellectual yet speaking to all; in the end, they are simply beautiful.

Angela Hewitt © 2004

Other albums in this series
'Bach: The Inventions' (CDA66746)
Bach: The Inventions
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'Bach: The French Suites' (CDA67121/2)
Bach: The French Suites
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'Bach: The Six Partitas' (CDA67191/2)
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'Bach: Goldberg Variations' (CDA67305)
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'Bach: Italian Concerto & French Overture' (CDA67306)
Bach: Italian Concerto & French Overture
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'Bach Arrangements' (CDA67309)
Bach Arrangements
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'Bach: Toccatas' (CDA67310)
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'Bach: The English Suites' (CDA67451/2)
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'Bach: Keyboard Concertos' (CDA67607/8)
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'Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier' (CDA67741/4)
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'Bach: Angela Hewitt plays Bach' (CDS44421/35)
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Buy by post £50.00 CDS44421/35  15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
'Angela Hewitt – Bach Performance on the Piano' (DVDA68001)
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'Bach: The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 1' (CDA67307)
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'Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, Vol. 1' (CDA67301/2)
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'Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, Vol. 2' (CDA67303/4)
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Buy by post £20.00 CDA67303/4  2CDs   Download currently discounted
'Bach: The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 2' (CDA67308)
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