Most helpful positive review
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.