Programme Saturday 19th September 2020
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
- 4 Duettos from Clavier-Ubung (Book III) BWV802-805
- Prelude in C BWV924
- Prelude in G minor BWV930
- Prelude in D BWV925
- Prelude in A minor BWV931
- Prelude in D minor BWV926
- Prelude in F BWV927
- Prelude in F BWV928
- Prelude in C major BWV933
- Prelude in C minor BWV934
- Prelude in D minor BWV935
- Prelude in D major BWV936
- Prelude in E major BWV937
- Prelude in E minor BWV938
- Prelude in C major BWV939
- Prelude in D minor BWV940
- Prelude in E minor BWV941
- Prelude in A minor BWV942
- Prelude in C major BWV943
- Prelude in C minor BWV999
- Fantasia and Fugue in A minor BWV944
- Ouvertüre nach französischer Art BWV831
- Italian Concerto in F BWV971
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) transcribed Wilhelm Kempff
Wachet auf! ruft uns die Stimme BWV645
It was last June when Angela Hewitt played at the Wigmore Hall to a live stream public but an empty hall.
An exhilarating occasion for us all.
But it was today for her beloved Wigmore audience that she truly rose to the occasion.The eleventh concert in her series of twelve that she has been performing all over the world under the title of Bach Odyssey that she was persuaded to undertake by John Gilhooly.The final – 12th Concert with Bach’s monumental Art of Fugue will be on the 28th September.
Today we were treated to an eclectic series of works – no Partitas , English or French Suites or Variations – but the Little Keyboard book written as a teaching aid for his nine year old son Wilhelm Friedemann in 1720.Ferruccio Busoni combined the Twelve Little Preludes and the Six Little Preludes in a set of 18 kleine Präludien (18 Short Preludes), followed by the Fughetta BWV 961.Angela chose to follow them with the Prelude in C minor for lute BWV 999.It was indeed the perfect way to lead into the Fantasia and Fugue in A minor BWV 944 that closed the first part of the concert.
A variety of fascinating sounds in the preludes from the meanderings of the Praeambulum in G minor to the grandeur of the D major or the subtle ornamentation of the beautiful A minor.The perpetual motion of the Preambulum in F to the pure joy of the prelude that follows.The subtle colour and inflections of the final C minor so similar to the first prelude of the ’48 – “too easy for children and too difficult for grown ups”In Angela’s magic hands,however, it was played with a simplicity and purity that only someone who has lived with this music for a lifetime could achieve.
The concert began with four duetti BWV 802–805 which were included at a fairly late stage in 1739 in the engraved plates for Klavier-Übung III. As the distinguished critic Michael White explained in his fascinating and amusing introduction to the concert ,the Duets were intended as meaning two voices living together. Bach wrote the duets to lie comfortably within the relatively narrow compass of almost every organ of the time. From the lyrical beauty of the opening E minor to the extreme clarity of the voices and the rhythmic energy of the second in F.The extreme simplicity of the third in G with voices seeming to appear from every part of the keyboard.To the urgency of the final Duet in A minor.
The Fantasy and Fugue in A minor BWV 944 closed the first half of the concert. The ten-bar fantasia is more complicated than it looks. On paper, it’s just a series of chords taking less than a minute to play; in reality, the performer is expected to arpeggiate and improvise on the chords as lavishly as desired, exploring the chords’ dissonances and harmonic surprises. The mellifluous fugue,Bach’s longest outside The Art of the Fugue, shares its basic theme with the Fugue for organ in A minor (BWV 543).The first notes almost conducted by Angela’s hands with the restless music gradually thickening its texture with counterpoint derived from the main theme in a gradual crescendo with deep bass notes adding to the grandeur of Bach with astonishing technical brilliance that brought this first part to an exhilarating end.
The second part of the programme was dedicated to two major works from the second book of the Klavier-Ubung
The Overture in the French style BWV 831 was published as the second half of the Klavier-Ubung in 1735 and was paired with the Italian Concerto as it was indeed today . The work was transposed into B minor from the C minor original version BWV 831 a, to complete the cycle of tonalities in Parts One and Two of the Klavier-Übung.
It is fascinating to read about the almost mathematical and scientific mind of Bach.Rosalyn Tureck in the editorial for her first Interaction Symposium in Oxford as part of her Bach Reseach Foundation states:”At least as far back as Pythagoras we have known that there is a correspondence between soundwaves and arithmetic.But composed music is more than wavelengths,vibrations and numbers.It partakes of,indeed its very essence is dependent upon ,processes of thought,form and structure.” The keys of the six Partitas (B♭ major, C minor, A minor, D major, G major, E minor) form a sequence of intervals going up and then down by increasing amounts: a second up (B♭ to C), a third down (C to A), a fourth up (A to D), a fifth down (D to G), and finally a sixth up (G to E). The key sequence continues into Clavier- Ubung II (1735) with two larger works: the Italian Concerto, a seventh down (E to F), and the French Overture, an augmented fourth up (F to B♮). Thus this sequence of customary tonalities for 18th-century keyboard compositions is complete, extending from the first letter of his name (Bach’s “home” key, B♭, in German is B) to the last letter of his name (B♮ in German is H).
The genius of Bach indeed.A monumental performance where Angela’s own comment that Bach is ‘pure,cleansing and comforting but with backbone’ became perfectly clear in a performance to quote a critic where ‘everything is right – everything is natural’.With eleven movements, the French Overture is the longest keyboard suite ever composed by Bach.From the majesty of the opening to the refined shaping of the dance movements and the sheer exuberance of the final Eco.
It seemed impossible that we could experience anything better.However turning off her ‘aide memoire’ I pad she threw herself into the Italian Concerto with a freedom and irresistible sense of rhythm and colour that kept her audience, both in the hall and at home,spellbound.The slight hesitations and inflections injected into this continuous flow of music was absolutely mesmerising.The stillness and ravishing beauty of the slow movement was something to cherish indeed.The rhythmic drive ,energy and sheer joy of the last movement was remarkable especially after two hours of continuous concentrated playing.The Busoni like transcription of Wilhelm Kempff of ‘Wachet auf,ruft uns die stimme’ (Sleepers Awake) was her way of thanking her audience for their thirty faithful years of following all the great performances that she has given in this hallowed hall.As she herself said : the Wigmore Hall is indeed the best thing in London in this rather bleak Corona virus period.