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Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Angela Hewitt (Piano)

Review: Hewitt’s Goldberg Variations

K-7

Bach: Goldberg Variations

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Angela Hewitt (Piano)

Hyperion

Aug-Sep 1999

CD / TT: 78:32

Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, London, England.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 12, 2001):
[Note - you might think I have gone over to the piano when reading this...]

Angela Hewitt, who is recording all of Bach¹s keyboard works on piano, has proven to be one of the most inspired interpreters of his music. In her many recordings, she has demonstrated a rare capacity to get to the heart of the music. However, there are many fine recordings of the Goldberg Variations on piano - the competition is tough. One could choose, to name only a few of the best, among Glen Gould¹s excellent 1981 recording, Andras Schiff¹s slightly quirky version, or the recent landmark recording by Murray Perahia.

One of the main differences among recordings of the Goldberg Variations is that of the tempi for the different parts of the work. Not only does the tempo of each variation affect the individual piece, but the difference in tempo between any two variations has a great effect on the transition between them. One of the best examples of this is the transition between the opening aria and the first variation; or that between the 30th variation and the final aria. Both of these transitions are essential for the overall feeling of the work - in the former case, it establishes a sort of rhythmic range, since there is such a great difference between the two sections; in the latter, it is the coming home, after the 30 variations, that acts as a sigh, as both the performer and listener catch their breath, and settle in for the victory lap.

Hewitt seems to have found the correct tempi for all the variations. Her slightly slower tempo in variation 3 allows the left-hand part to be more prominent, giving this variation a more apparent rhythm than some other performers. And her slightly faster tempo of variation 27 helps give this section the joyful tone it deserves.

Hewitt’s playing in general can best be described as limpid - she does not try and take centre stage; she seems to step back and let the music take over. While her ornamentation can be singular at times, it never sounds affected, it never seems as though it is there merely to show off. For example, she chooses to lengthen some of the ornaments in the initial aria - undoubtedly, performers tend to try and play the aria in a more ‘personal’ way, since it helps set the tone for the entire work - but this does not shock.

Hewitt can be energetic at times, such is in variation 10, a four-part fughetta. Her playing here shines, and she uses exemplary dynamic effects in the different sections of the variation. But she definitely has rhythm! Listening to variation 12, one can hear the ever-so-slight syncopation she occasionally uses. Her touch can be light and playful, when necessary, such as in the brief runs and arpeggios of variation 23. However, one of my few disappointments is the overly forceful entry of variation 29 - it is just a bit too loud, especially compared to the previous variation, and the music gets slightly lost in the very fast runs of this section.

In the slower movements, she shows a great deal of feeling. Variation 13 is a beautifully melodic section, where her phrasing of the slightly off-beat cantabile melody fits with perfection. Variation 25, the longest and most melodically beautiful section of the Goldbergs, is played here almost perfectly. Hewitt uses excellent phrasing, again, and her dynamics help bring out the many nuances in this variation.

Hewitt seems to have understood the unique transition between the final variation and the aria da capo - no other recording of this work I have heard has as much silence between the two: about 15 seconds. This time is essential to fully appreciate the return to the initial aria, especially considering the difference in volume between the two. It is rare to find a musician who understands silences in this manner. And when Hewitt¹s reprise of the aria is one of the best ever - she does not repeat the initial aria as much as she reworks it. It is slower, more introspective, softer, subtler. As if it were not a new beginning, but an end that recalls the beginning. A masterpiece.

A brief note on the notes - this disc contains what are probably the best liner notes on the Goldberg variations. All too often, the notes are usually a cursory overview of the piece, but Hewitt looks at each variation, and helps the listener better understand the complexities and subtleties of the music.

This is one of the best recordings of the Goldberg Variations available on piano. Hewitt shows a rare grasping of the subtlest nuances of Bach’s music. Her phrasing, dynamics and rhythm are immensely satisfying. While, in the end, I still prefer the recent recording by Murray Perahia, for his unique touch and the way he has incorporated his foray into harpsichord playing to the piano, this recording will remain high on my list of favourites. A highly-recommended recording.

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Feedback to the Review

Jodie Mistrial wrote (July 13, 2001):
Kitr McElhearn wrote:
< Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 [78.32] >
Please define this for me. What does the BWV mean, the 988, the [78.32]..... thank you so much.... :)

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 13, 2001):
[To Jodie Mistrial] BWV is the Bach-Werke-Vezeichnis, the Catalogue of Bach's Works. the 78.32 is the timing.

 

Goldberg Variations BWV 988: Details
Recordings:
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001
Comparative Review: Goldberg Variations on Piano:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Comparative Review: Round-Up of Goldberg Variations Recordings:
Recordings | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
GV - Cole | GV - Crossland | GV - Dershavina | GV - Egarr [Lehman] | GV - Egarr [Satz] | GV - Egarr [Bright] | GV- Hantai | GV - Hantaï (2nd) | GV - Haugsand | GV - Hewitt | GV - Holloway | GV- Ingolfsdottir | GV - Jando | GV - Leonhardt | GV- Lifschitz | GV - Newman | GV - Nikolayeva 3rd | GV- Payne | GV - Schepkin, Yudina & Serkin | GV - Schiff [ECM] | GV- Small | GV - Suzuki | GV - Toth | GV - Trich | GV - Tureck (Satz) | GV - Tureck (Lehman) | GV- Verlet | GV - Vieru | GV - Vinikour | GV - Weissenberg | GV - Zhu
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Quodlibet in GV | GV for Strings
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
GV - Barenboim | GV - P.J. Belder | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - Egarr | GV - Feltsman | GV - C. Frisch | GV - Gould | GV - Hantaï | GV - R. Holloway | GV - J. Jando | GV - Jarrett | GV - Leonhardt | GV - V. Makin | GV - A. Newman | GV - S. Ross | GV Schiff | GV - R. Schirmer | GV - H. Small | GV - G. Sultan | GV - G. Toth | GV - Tureck | GV - Vartolo | GV - Verlet
Article:
The Quodlibet as Represented in Bach’s Final Goldberg Variation BWV 988/30 [by Thomas Braatz]

Angela Hewitt: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
A Stunning New Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2 / Bach Recording for 1999 | Review: Toccatas played by Angela Hewitt | Hewitt’s English Suites | Review: Hewitt’s Goldberg Variations | Angela Hewitt Bach’s Recital Disc on Hyperion | Hewitt Bach arrangements [Bright] | New Album by Angela Hewitt [McElhearn]

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Last update: ýDecember 20, 2006 ý09:28:14