Angela Hewitt plays the Art of Fugue

Last night here in Cambridge, a truly remarkable concert. Remarkable for a start that such an austere programme — a performance of the Art Of Fugue on the piano — was sold out, and to an audience seemingly of much wider age spread than is too often the case with concerts here. Remarkable in the event for the utter concentration of the audience, silent and hardly moving in their seats for an unbroken hour and a half. But most remarkable, of course, for the performance by Angela Hewitt, which made an absolutely compelling case that this music is not just for the study, or for solitary listening with score in hand to follow the twists and turns, but can work in the concert hall. Judging from the reception at the end, the audience were more than won over. There was a shared sense that we had witnessed musicianship of a quite astonishing kind in action.

You’ll have to take my word for it for now: but Angela Hewitt has recorded a CD of the Art of Fugue for Hyperion (to add to her other stunning Bach discs) which will be out in the autumn, and you can judge for yourself then — though there was something magical about being there in the atmosphere at the live concert. I predict you will be bowled over.

The picture isn’t from last night’s concert but I think characteristic. But here, as tweeted by Angela Hewitt, visual proof that she was indeed in Cambridge!

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4 Responses to Angela Hewitt plays the Art of Fugue

  1. Thanks for this. I’ll definitely have to check it out. I’ve always admired Hewitt as a pianist before, so I’m sure she’s done a great job of the Art of the Fugue. That said, I’ve never heard of the whole book being played just on piano. From what I remember, two or three of the contrapunctus pieces are exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to play on pianoforte (or the original harpsichord as most likely intended), and hence typically organ is used. Nonetheless, I’ll have to check out the recording properly before I make any real judgement.

    • Peter Smith says:

      I went to the hear Angela Hewitt the afternoon before, in discussion with John Butt, talking about the context of the Art Fugue, about its structure, and about performing it on a piano. And she indeed said that two or three of the pieces stretched to the limit what was possible with ten fingers — but she added that by various devices, and choosing manageable tempi, they are playable. In performance, I certainly didn’t pick up any sense of strain, such was her command of the piano.

  2. Jan von Plato says:

    Did she play it in the traditional order, with the music ending halfway through a contrapunctus (or maybe it was hypodiatesserion, can’t remember), or in the newly philological order? “Dad, put again the piece in which Bach died!”

    • Peter Smith says:

      Angela Hewitt followed almost the traditional order, though I think she did place a canon or two a bit earlier to make for more contrasts in a live performance (I’m away from home for a while so I can’t check against the programme). But certainly, yes she did play through to the last contrapunctus breaking off in silence. And she’d asked us in advance to stay silent for a long pause before she played the chorale that CPE Bach had appended. It worked very well indeed.

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