November 2005

Bach - Keyboard Concertos 1-7; Brandenburg Concerto No. 5; Triple Concerto in A Minor
Angela Hewitt, piano; Australian Chamber Orchestra directed from the violin by Richard Tognetti
Hyperion SACDA67307/67308
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2005

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Angela Hewitt has adopted Bach as one of her signature composers and has been hailed worldwide for her performances of his solo keyboard music. She has a keen feeling for the ebb and flow of Bach’s phrases and contrapuntal lines and is especially lyrical in the slow movements, spinning out long phrases with grace and sensitivity. In faster passages, she brings good energy to the music, though not in the same manner as the late Glenn Gould, who really seemed to feel the motor rhythms in his bones.

On this recording, the small Australian string orchestra displays many of the same attributes as its illustrious soloist. The playing is neat and clean, with great attention to detail. The recorded sound is warm and close up. The soundstage has less depth than I prefer, but the stereo spread is good.

All those plusses aside, I find it distressing to hear these works on the piano. They were composed or transcribed for the harpsichord. Performing them on piano changes the colors and balances in many ways. I don’t mind Bach’s solo keyboard music on piano, where one interpreter can compensate and make them work in a different medium. But putting piano against a string orchestra that is playing the same accompaniment they would for a harpsichord seems odd at best, sacrilege at worst.

To really hear these pieces as originally intended I would seek out one of the many good recordings for harpsichord, The ones by Igor Kipness and Raymond Leppard are my own personal favorites.