On paper a recital consisting of Bach’s six French Suites might seem like too much of a good thing.
Each suite has between six and eight highly distilled and stylized dance movements and they all begin with the same three – a moderately-paced Allemande, a quicker Courante and a stately Sarabande – and end with a lively Gigue.
Yet within these self-imposed constraints Bach provided opportunities for variety and contrast which Angela Hewitt amply revealed.
Take, for example, the final Gigue in suites 1, 4 and 5. In the first she emphasized its trenchant almost angry quality – it’s in a dark, dramatic D minor – without the shred of a jolly jig. Whereas the fourth, with its imitative voices and heavy-stepping rhythms, she portrayed as a hearty rustic roundelay.
Hewitt played the affable fifth suite in G major, the most popular of the set, last and with good reason. Its Gigue is a crowd-pleasing unbuttoned knees-up, so providing the recital with the perfect upbeat ending.
It’s been said that she unwarrantably suborns the bass line in Bach but there was no evidence of that here nor in her encore, Rameau’s Tambourin, with its tricky left-hand part imitating drumbeats, which was given a crisp and precise performance.
Her Bach has been praised for its “chaste” quality as if Hewitt bowdlerized it like a Victorian schoolmistress cutting out the naughty bits in Shakespeare.
There’s certainly purity in her playing, and she’s not given to romantic excess, but there’s also passion leavened with wit and humour.