This CD - the last in the Hewitt's cycle of solo keyboard works of Bach - is one in Hewitt's discography that doesn't get as much attention as some others but is an emmensely satisfying musical experience. Spanning decades of Bach's life, the selections on this CD are quite diverse and represent what Angela Hewitt calls, "The best of the rest" - referring to the remaining works of Bach she felt were significant to record ... but by no means "the bottom of the barrel." She saved some treasures for last which include here two grand fantasies/fugues, two choral preludes of simple beauty, a few suite- and tocatta-like pieces, one radiant sonata and the star of the recital for me, the magnificant Aria with variations in "the Italian style" (BWV989).
In the two fantasia/fugues (early works likely composed for organ), Miss Hewitt brings out the two or three voices with a commanding and often fascinating articulation and precision. She masterfully and simultaneously summons a wide range of nuances and dynamics in her seamless, overlapping fugal voices. In the opening A-minor fugue she deftly creates an commanding, organ-like voice of great strength and rigidity on the left hand while - with the right hand - quiet, ethereal textures of lightness and lithe (assisted by the tactful use of the pedals). The combination and progression are most enthralling to hear. Similarly, the C-major fugue is a dancing run of great joy where the final A-minor "perpetual motion" fugue is nearly five breathtaking minutes of seamless semiquavers like liquid. Both A minor works possess a virtusoity and complexity reminiscent of the monumental Chromatic Fantasia/Fugue in D minor (BWV903).
Very different from the commanding fugues are the two gentle and lovely choral preludes - works of simplistic beauty and types of Bach's compositions that Hewitt seems to have a way of finding the spiritual core that the Luthern Kappelmeister Bach must have had in mind. (Often she ends her programs with such gentle, contemplative works, but in this CD she chose to end with the quicksilver fugue mentioned above).
Another star of the set is certainly the Aria and Variations (BWV989) - an early work foreshadowing the great Goldberg variations. The combination of the imaginative writing of Bach here (who wrote very few variation movements) and the brilliance of Hewitt's pianism makes for a memorable reading. The "wow" variation must certainly be the eighth for its dazzling, off-beat runs and Hewitt's marvelous "echo" simulations (sound track #11) - a spellbinding movement. In the opening and closing aria and slower variations, she elegantly draws out varying moods of contemplation or carefree dance with her impeccable tonal coloration and utilization of the full range of expression of the modern Steinway to impart maximum expression and excitment. This Aria/Variations is one of my favorite individual work out of the hundreds she has recorded.
In short, while perhaps not as famous as other CD's in Angela Hewitt's Bach discography, this CD is a most enthralling and varied tour of Bach's solo keyboard music that is bathed with the typical clarity, precision, finesse and lovely tone that has made Angela Hewitt one of the finest interpreters of Bach today. She really seems 'on her game' in these recordings which was also heartily noted in a review by Gramophone (who had critiqued her prior English Suites set as having an "overly precious" style at times). Also, the sound quality is clear and exceptional - typical of most of her Hyperion cycle and most like the Partitas or Toccatas. Her extensive liner notes too are a most enjoyable and educational experience to read. I don't know if it is more Bach's genius or more Angela Hewitt's refined and imaginative pianism, but I keep coming back for more and more of this artist's Bach recordings. Highly Recommended and a personal favorite of Hewitt's many fine recordings.