Beautifully co-ordinated Bach playing, with all voices colourfully defined and spontaneity as a constant virtue
Name your leading interpretative preferences in the Goldberg Variations, and there's bound to be someone on disc who expresses them. Leaving aside numerous harpsi- chord versions, the current catalogue is notably rich in colourful piano alternatives. Of the best available options, Rosalyn Tureck holds structure as paramount; Glenn Gould (in his 1981 recording) is strong on rhythmic continuity and contrapuntal clarity and Evgeni Koroliov, whom Lionel Salter welcomed to the Goldberg fold last month, is distinctive above all for his imaginative handling of repeats. Angela Hewitt's chosen course is not dissimilarRead more to Koroliov's, at least in principle (both pianists play all the repeats), but her manner of playing is entirely different. Two things struck me more or less from the start: first, that she can summon so many dynamic grades simultaneously; and second, that her variations between repeats are not restricted to matters of voicing. For example, in Variation 13, she accelerates her phrases as if caught on a spontaneous impulse, then relaxes for the response (0'32''). When she plays the variation's first half again (1'08'') she significantly modifies her tone and rubato, then opts for a more formal approach to the second half. All this in just over four and a half minutes!
Her mastery of the keyboard is exemplary. She can launch an elegant staccato (Var 2, which is also a good place to sample her 'three-dimensional' part-playing) or allow one voice to weave an ivy-like thread, while others argue above it (Var 3, from 0'09''). In Var 7, she colours the repeat by softening her tone and introducing a subtle lilt to the rhythm, whereas in 12 she underlines the 'question and answer' elements then accentuates the darker voices in the repeat. For Var 20, she inserts echo effects for the first statement, then stresses syncopations for the second.
Beyond a seamless account of the pivotal 25th variation, Hewitt rattles off manic trills in 23 and favours a grand, free-wheeling approach for 29. Koroliov treats the same sequence (Vars 26-30) as a sort of exultant catharsis after the emotional rigours of the 'Black Pearl' (which, as LS remarked, exceeds 11 minutes. Hewitt's runs to eight). His is a more forthright alternative, with less in the way of interpretative 'incident' between the extremes of bass and treble. Both performances are pianistically imposing, but Hewitt is the subtler colourist and her recording (Henry Wood Hall, September 1999) is superior. In my view, she has never made a better CD. Strongly recommended.
-- Rob Cowan, Gramophone [4/2000, reviewing the original release]
"it is a remarkable achievement, arguably the best to appear on disc since Glenn Gould's second celebrated recording from 1981 ... [It] is the sheer technical command of her playing, coupled with such elegantly supple musicianship, that makes the performance so compelling ... Everything is right, everything is natural - this is Bach on the piano of the highest quality imaginable' (The Guardian)
'After five days of recording sessions last August, Angela Hewitt returned in the small hours of September 1 to give a complete "performance" for a few friends of the Bach's Aria with Diverse Variations. Fortunately, the engineers decided to keep the tapes rolling, for this, according to Hyperion's executive director, Ted Perry, is the "take" Hewitt and Hyperion decided to release. The resulting record is a miracle of music-making at its most instinctive and spontaneous. Even by Hewitt's exalted standards it is extraordinary: in the brilliant toccatas, she creates, with her amazing articulation, the illusion of the music being plucked by the modern piano's hammers; her virtuosity and joie de vivre in the fast variations - try 1, 14 and "the most dangerous of all the toccatas", No 20 - take the breath away. She also penetrates the heart of the great 13th and 25th variations without false romantic sentiment. The reprise of the Aria at the close - after a majestic variation 29 - is shattering. If you only buy one Bach album in this anniversary year, let it be this one. A desert-island disc!' (The Sunday Times)
'Outstanding...Hewitt's disc, exquisite artistry commingling with infectious exhilaration gives me the most pleasure' (BBC Music Magazine)
'Beautifully co-ordinated Bach playing, with all voices colourfully defined and spontaneity as a constant virtue. In my view, she has never made a better CD. Strongly recommended' (Gramophone)
'This is as fine a version of Bach's inventive Goldberg Variations as there is' (The Express)
'Hewitt is one of the very finest Bach interpreters around. She possesses all the mechanical skills needed to master the difficulties facing the soloist, but never loses sight of the humanity that is evident in every note ... Playing of the highest order, and one of the finest recordings of this work you're ever likely to hear' (The Scotsman)
'The most recent in a series of wonderfully compelling Bach recordings by pianist Angela Hewitt. She seems to do everything right ... simply one of the best piano versions available' (Fanfare, USA)