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61 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2005
Recorded early in Angela Hewitt's Bach cycle, the popular French Suites (along with the "Little Preludes" and other two more dynamic virtuoso pieces) take a step back from the more serious and complex fugal compositions of Bach and settle into the restrained elegance of the courtly and rustic dances of the era. Although Bach never titled these works as "French," the suites take much of their inspritation from the various "dance" forms of music in that period (French mainly) that form each suite: the processional German-inspired allemandes ... the stately French courantes ... the spicier Italian correntes ... the slow and meditative sarabandes of Spanish-origin ... the French-aristocratic minuets, gavottes and airs ... the bouncy and free-spirited bourrees ... and, to close the suite, the most musically serious French gigues (inspired by the English 'jig'). The three minor-key suites take a more introverted flavor while the three major-key suites are more extraverted and bright. Suites 5 and 6 are perhaps the most popular for their bright, major-key sounds.

Every generation has its one or two Bach legends, and for the 'boomer generation,' one of them is certainly Angela Hewitt. Her poised playing finds its natural home here and wonderfully matches the spirit of this elegant, gentle and noble music. Her decorative touches are pure artistry and always delightfully enhance the atmosphere of the music without detracting or distracting. Penguin Guide gave this set their "Recommended Recording" of all the available recordings of the French Suites. It all just sounds "right" for this type of music. Addtionally, the sound quality is clear and without extraneous noise and has a somewhat-spacious but pleasant ambiance.

The so-called "Little Preludes" were exercises for Bach's son or pupils but really are not so "little" in terms of style or substance. Most are light and delightful - with some pure charm (BWV933). Notably Hewitt makes them all sound - not as mere exercises - but as viable performances in themselves. On a more virtuostic scale are the "filler works" on this CD: the Sonata in D minor and the Prelude/Fugue in A minor - the former being transcribed from the solo violin sonata in A minor (BWV 1003) and the latter being a work Bach later encorporated into the "Triple Concerto (BWV 1044, on Hewitt's Bach Concertos Vol. I). The closing allegro of the Sonata is a highlight and is played by Hewitt with an effortless radiance. Her galloping triplets and ever-so delicate and deft shifts in dynamics and touch here create the famous Bach "echo" that gives a facinating and larger-than-life quality to the movement. All-in-all, a most pleasant, accessible and artistic recording from one of the most talented pianists playing Bach today.

If you are trying to sort out Bach's great solo keyboard music, you can characterize them like this in general: the FRENCH SUITES are overall the most refined, elegant and 'restrained' musically (French courtly style) as compared to the more dynamic preludes and dances in the ENGLISH SUITES (but also having haughtingly-beautiful sarabandes to contrast). Along with the great showpieces, CHROMATIC FANTASY & FUGUE in C minor, the PARTITAS and the TOCCATAS are certainly the most outright virtuostic of the sets - with the latter being the most free of form and the most extemporaneous sounding. The two books of Bach's "WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER" are in a class of their own from the often-charming preludes in Book I to the most complex musical-intelligence contained in the fugues of Book II. Bach's WTC is both systematic and pedogogic but also delightfully lyrical and often deeply meditative and is essential music in any piano-loving human being. This wide range of contrasting emotional qualities (movements) is really characteristic of nearly all of Bach's keyboard music and is most marvelously showcased in the legenday 30 GOLDBERG VARIATIONS. All of Angela Hewitt's Bach recordings are excellent (no 'dogs') and are consistently rated among the top 2 or 3 choices in the field. Hard to go wrong with any really.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2002
Like her countryman Glenn Gould, Hewitt has built her reputation largely on the basis of her recordings of Bach's major keyboard works. While Hewitt remains free of most of the quirks and twitches that-- depending on your perspective-- adorn or cloud Gould's performances, her interpretations are no less distinctive, and distinguished. Some features of this issue to take note of: Hewitt includes several movments that are absent from most editions or performances of the French Suites, including addition dances and, in the fourth E-flat suite, a prelude that seems to be an earlier version of the C-sharp prelude from the second book of the WTC. The fillers are both familiar and new-- the well-known sets of little preludes for W. F. Bach (an indispensable companion to, if not quite a replacement for, Gould's memorable version), and two pieces perhaps better known in other versions: the a-minor sonata for violin unaccompanied, in a setting for keyboard; and the a-minor Prelude and Fugue that is perhaps better known in Bach's own adaptation as the Triple Concerto for violin, flute and keyboard, BWV 1044. A satisfying issue all-round, and remarkable both for the elegance of its playing and for its excellent programme.
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66 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2004
Angela Hewitt is often compared to Glenn Gould, her fellow Canadian pianist, because she also plays Bach. I won't compare them. When I listen to Gould I marvel at his genius. When I listen to Hewitt, I marvel at Bach's genius.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2005
Bach's music weaves together many elements: heartfelt story-telling, intellectual fascination, inspiring technique, and joyful dance. My favorite Bach interpreters are those who can reveal the innate sensitivity of Bach's music, and Angela does that superbly. Her tone is always singing, her dance rhythms will set even Grandma to jumping and cavorting, and her emotional connection so intimate I thought it was my mother singing to me in the cradle.

I particularly like that her technique never becomes showy in itself; even the difficult final Gigue of Suite 5 is purely about dance and joy.

Her ornaments are always tasteful. Not easy to do with Bach, when you consider that ornamenting is a form of composition.. and to ornament well, one is essentially adding to Bach's composition.

Her interpretation of Bach on the piano (as opposed to the harpsichord, for which is was written) is absolutely convincing.

This is my first CD purchase of Angela's Bach, and I plan to get them all.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2004
The works included on these 2 disks are among Bach's most accessible keyboard works and are also among the easiest for the amateur to get a grip on.
Angela Hewitt performances are sensitive and full of life. Having listened to many Bach interpreters on the piano, I keep coming back to Angela.
I also enthusiustically recommend her perfomances of the partitas.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt has recorded Bach's complete works for solo keyboard on 14 CD releases. Her recording of the French Suites was the second in the cycle, dating from 1995. In Bach's music and in Hewitt's performance, this is a special recording. In addition, the CD is special to me. I received it as a surprise gift from two friends. I was touched that they gave me a gift and that they knew me well enough to make a perfect choice.

I approached this CD from the perspective of an amateur who tries to play Bach on the piano. I learned a great deal from Hewitt's performances as well as from her detailed liner notes. Hewitt is not a period performer. Rather, she plays Bach on the piano with an appreciation of the capabilities of the instrument to capture the spirit of the music. Her playing tends toward restraint and self-effacement. Bach's music comes first. Hewitt writes in her liner notes of the decisions that need to be made in playing even the technically easiest pieces of Bach in matters such as tempo, phrasing, articulation, dynamics, and ornamentation. Her thougtful approach to the French Suites and other music on this CD set comes through in every measure. I tried to listen to the linear character of the music in each of the two hands. Hewitt emphasizes the melodic line, but each line of the music can be heard with clarity. This is a difficult attainment on the piano.

Bach's six French Suites were composed between 1722 and 1725. They are based upon dance movements used in French and Italian music of his day, but there is nothing particularly "French" about the suites. The movements of each suite are in the same key, unlike, say, the latter classical sonata. Of Bach's six suites, the first three are in minor keys while the second three are in major keys. The suites begin with a flowing dance called an allemande, followed by a generally livelier dance called a courante, and then a slow stately dance called a sarabande. Each suite concludes with a rhythmic rapid dance called a gigue. The remaining movements in each suite differ but usually include a minuet. Bach's French Suites tend to be less complex and less fugual than much of his other keyboard music.

The Suites each have an individual character in Hewitt's reading. For example the first French Suite in d minor opens with an unusually spacious and serious allemande. It includes a slow, chordal sarabande and concludes with a difficult fugual gigue. The Suite no. 4 in E flat major has a meditative character. Hewitt makes some unusual performance choices in this Suite by beginning it with a prelude and including a second gavotte that are not found in most editions or recordings. (There are many variants in the editions of the Suites.) She integrated these movements beautifully into the whole. The Fifth Suite in G major is the most frequently performed of the set. It opens with a beautifully phrased allemande and concludes with a famous and brilliant gigue which Hewitt describes as a "cross between Vivaldi and a country fiddling jamboree." The Sixth Suite is also well-known. It begins with a joyful, contrapuntal allemande and is of a generally lyrical character. Hewitt's performances of the Suites will reward repeated hearings.

This 2-CD set also includes substantial additional music. Hewitt includes three sets of six little preludes that Bach composed as teaching pieces for his son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. These works are even today given to young pianists as a first exposure to Bach. For aspiring pianists at all levels, it is instructive to hear the effort and musicality that Hewitt begins to these little works.

Two larger-scale virtuoso works round out the CD. The four movement sonata in d minor is a transcription of a Bach sonata for solo violin in a minor. It is in the form slow-fast-slow-fast with a lengthy difficult fugue in the second movement and poignant opening and third movements. The CD concludes with the Prelude and Fugue in a minor which is also a transcription from the outer movements of Bach's Triple Concerto for flute, violin, harpsichord, and strings. This is a concertante, bravura piece for solo piano which makes extended use of rapid-fire passages in triplets.

Angela Hewitt is one of the finest performers of Bach. There could be no better gift than this CD to someone who loves music.

Total Time: 150:54

Robin Friedman
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2002
Angela Hewitt plays Bach's French Suites with complete mastery. There is no other interpretation that combines the delicate with the profound moods of Bach in the same way. Her recordings will outlast all others.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 26, 2007
Ms Hewitt has never quite swept me away, and she certainly does nothing here to suggest she is a legendary pianist. However, she is very at ease with these works, and brings to them quite a bit of charm and piquancy. She's convincing and - my most important criteria for rating any CD - relistenable. The music itself is fresh and delightful, as charming as anything in all of Bach - he could be very charming indeed: though for too many Bach is revered as serious and intellectual. Anyway, these are nice performances and perhaps it's just my personal taste, but I find Ms Hewitt's efforts here in the lighter keyboard repetoire of Bach easier to accept than most of her efforts in the French repetoire.
The great performances of Bach's French Suites remain those of long ago - Helmut Wacha on the harpsichord, but those are not currently available in America.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2008
For those who think of Bach as mechanical and mathematical, Angela Hewitt has a surprise for you - Bach is melodic and lyrical as well. The French Suites are among my Bach favorites. They "sing and dance" more than any of the other keyboard works. I also have many of the Andras Schiff recordings of Bach which I also like. Hewitt takes Bach just a little slower (sometimes) than Schiff with a little more feeling of a melodic line (not to be confused with too much rubato) which I do not hear as much in other Bach recordings. My brother, a pianist, liked my Hewitt recording so much that he bought one of his own. My daughter received this same recording for Christmas of 2008. By the way, if you like Angela Hewitt and/or want some of the lesser known and more unusual Bach keyboard works, I highly recommend her recording that includes the Fantasia in f minor - one of the most unusual works of Bach that I have ever heard.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2010
Stunningly beautiful. Anyone who truly loves music, especially anyone who loves classical keyboard music should own this. The God given talent of Angela Hewitt combined with the God inspired music of Bach is truly heavenly!
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