Bach: Goldberg Variations

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Goldberg Variations
PERFORMER: Angela Hewitt (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67305
The most striking aspect of the Goldberg Variations, as organist and harpsichordist John Butt has pithily noted, is that Bach, using ‘virtually every stylistic and affective device at his disposal… provides a comprehensive, encyclopedic view of his musical world through the narrow focus of a single harmonic form’. Bach celebrates this diversity-in-unity both intellectually, in the music’s variety of structure, canon to toccata to quodlibet, and emotionally, in a compass of expression that ranges from exuberant brilliance to sombre introspection.

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A major attraction of Angela Hewitt’s new recording is her ability to bring out the character of each variation with vivid particularity: Var. 13 could not sing more tenderly, Var. 23 cavorts with an irresistible sense of fun. No less outstanding are the clarity with which she differentiates voices, and (a hallmark of her previous Bach recordings) the wonderful rhythmic vitality she imparts to the music: her slower tempi retain a lilting grace, the faster leap and sparkle with deft facility. Hewitt’s single most winning attribute, however, may be her talent for divining the joyful in Bach. Her notes make clear that she sees joy as a defining quality of the Goldberg Variations, and her playing gives it wing with delightful, sometimes amazing, aplomb.

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Benchmark contenders (on piano) would include Glenn Gould’s two historic yet eccentric recordings, plus Daniel Barenboim’s lovely 1989 in-concert set, distinguished by its serene beauty and smooth control. But it’s Hewitt’s disc, exquisite artistry commingling with infectious exhilaration, that currently gives me most pleasure. Graham Lock