Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 [82:14]
Angela Hewitt (piano)
rec. 14-17 December 2015, Christuskirche, Berlin-Oberschönweide.
HYPERION CDA68146 [82:14]

Angela Hewitt’s 1999 recording of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations has long been a favourite for many of us who appreciate piano recordings of this eternal masterpiece. Gerald Fenech raved about the original release (review), it reappeared as one of Hyperion’s 30th anniversary ‘top 30’ discs and it is of course part of Hyperion’s big box set of Hewitt’s Bach recordings from 2010 (review).

With all repeats played, Hewitt’s Goldberg Variations was always a total immersion sort of Bach, and sixteen years on this is equally true of this new recording if not more so. Re-recording such a work is never a decision taken lightly, but this latest version has a decade and a half of additional performance experience to add to the earlier one, which was already based on a lifetime with a work that was so important to Hewitt’s career back in 1973, when she won with it her first major international piano competition.

I’m not going to pick over minutiae with regard to differences between these recordings, and Hewitt herself says it’s “part of the fun” for any listener keen to analyse changes and developments. The Christuskirche acoustic is more spacious than the Henry Wood Hall, and Hewitt now uses her own “more challenging” Fazioli instrument rather than the “most beautiful” Steinway from 1999. Hewitt points out this new recording to have more emphasis on the quality of dance, “dance in Bach means joy.” She further adds that “the phrasing is, I think, more elastic; the touch, when required, lighter; the contrasts more apparent.” Angela Hewitt’s booklet notes for this release are by the way extensive and full of useful insights.

The long and short of it is, if you know and love Angela Hewitt’s Goldberg Variations then you simply must acquire this 2015 recording, and if you don’t then I would still recommend this sequel most passionately: you certainly don’t need to have experienced both. The beauty of the sound in this new recording is a treat from beginning to end, and Hewitt’s remarkable way with the colour and singing lines of individual voices is always breathtaking. The sense of joy in the music comes through palpably in the dance variations such as Variation 21, and the depths drawn from those variations invested with the greatest expression take us to worlds far beyond the daily grind. This newer recording adds a few minutes to the earlier one, and one of these extra minutes can be accounted for in Variation 25, the ‘black pearl’ which in this case comes in at an exquisite 8:50.

I have to admit to being a fan of Angela Hewitt’s, and as with her recording of The Art of Fugue this humble reviewer’s Goldberg Variations went on a wish list straight away and is not a review copy. You would hardly expect me to be critical, but there is always a chance one might leave oneself open to disappointment. In this case, my inner smile has been set to ‘warm glow’ since Christmas.

Dominy Clements

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