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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 21 July 2003
The BBC played only a few bars in a Saturday morning review, but after more than a decade of faithful adoration of both of Glenn Gould's recordings, I immediately decided to buy this one. Not only is this new recording of amazing clarity, it also is played with impressive determination and force. Everything about this recording seems a conscious decision, a well-planned act. An amazing de-romanticization of Bach, cleaner and more natural than I have ever heard him before. I am now very curious about Hewitt's other recordings...
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This fantastic disc is now reissued at mid-price Bach: Goldberg Variations as one of thirty "seminal recordings" out of the thousands in their catalogue which have been reissued by Hyperion to celebrate their 30th birthday, and this is certainly belongs among them. If I had to choose just one recording from the whole of Hyperion's superlative catalogue, this would be a very strong contender.

The Goldberg Variations are arguably Bach's greatest keyboard work. They are built on a fabulous technical framework of which the listener is scarcely aware and present us with a sublimely beautiful Aria and thirty amazingly diverse and expressive variations upon its ground bass, and they add up to an exceptionally enjoyable and rewarding musical experience.

There are an awful lot of recordings of the Goldberg Variations - many extremely good - but this is the best I know. Angela Hewitt's excellent discs of Bach have attracted universal acclaim and this, in my view, is the best of them. Her superlative technique and the depth of her scholarship and understanding of Bach form the bedrock, but she also brings fabulous a joy and a lambent beauty to these pieces. As a little example, there is a tiny five-note descending arpeggio in the opening Aria (at about 1'38" if you're interested) which is easy to treat simply as a link between two more important sections, but which absolutely glows in Hewitt's hands and moves me every time I hear it. The performance is full of such lovely details as this, and combined with her impeccable approach to the work as a whole they make this something really special.

The recorded sound is excellent (as always from Hyperion) and Angela Hewitt's notes are exceptionally interesting. This has been one of my most treasured CDs for many years. Recommended in the warmest terms.

(You may like to know that this disc is included in a terrific box set of all Angela Hewitt's solo Bach recordings Angela Hewitt plays Bach (Complete Solo Keyboard Recordings). It's something of an investment, but well, well worth it.)
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on 16 September 2000
The Goldberg variations is one of those pieces which lives with you. Until now my favourite recording has been Trevor Pinnock's but Angela Hewitt's new recording transcends it in every way. The piano sounds exactly right, the tempi are thoughtful but totally convincing, I have never heard the inner parts emerge with such clarity and authority. In two months this has become one of my favourite CDs: it is one of the very few I've ever heard which still astonishes me every time I listen to it.
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on 29 May 2012
Angela Hewitt's Goldbergs are a revelation. Her playing has a beautiful, fluid legato style. She shows utmost respect towards Bachs contrapuntal texture, and the polyphonic tecture of the music is incredibly well articulated. This is the case for playing Bach on the piano. As Hewitt explains, it is easier to distinguish between the different voices on a piano and make more of the music in general. She allows the music to breathe, and is not afraid of using the peddle occasionally. When the piece demands majesty or brilliance, Hewitt also delivers, such as the variations 12 and 16.

I think what especially distinguishes this recording is Angela's treatment of the dance like forms that begin each group of 3 for example variations 4, 7, 10 etc. her playing is so bouncy and full of life, it makes you want to get up and dance and generally feel joyous to be alive! Aside this, Hewitt' treatment of the slow more sorrowful pieces, like 15 and 25- referred to as the black pearl is not overly tragic, but still successfully evokes pathos.

In my opinion, this is the best Goldberg commited to record, it's a shame it's not one of the first results on Amazon. This is an interpretation to stay with, listening will heighten your enjoyment of these pieces. This disc was one of Hyperion's most successful releases and since was reissued with a different album cover for their 30th anniversary.
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on 27 January 2006
The background to this recording is a charming one : Hewitt spent three days recording tracks for the album in London. On the final evening she went out for a meal with some friends and then offered to give an impromptu private performance of the "Variations" back at the auditorium. They left the tape running and this was the take that Hyperion used.
One of the true delights of the "Goldberg Variations" is that it yields so many different interpretations. Everybody has their favorite: Gould for his dazzling idiosyncracies and because he produced two very contrasting versions; Schiff and Kempff for their more conventional but still wonderful renditions; Perahia for his amazing filigree touch.
Hewitt's performance on this recording is simply incredible. Just hearing the first few bars of the "Aria" made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Truly great artists can take a work to another level; it's what Argerich did with Liszt's "Sonata in B Minor"; it's what Perahia did with Chopin's "Études" (op. 10 & 25). Hewitt achieves the same milestone with her "Goldbergs". Her perfectly suited dynamics and crystalline articulation are magical, as are the small, personal flourishes that she introuduces into the piece with the sensitivity of a Zen calligrapher (pay particular attention to the seventh variation - sublime). Also worth noting is the quality of the recording itself; the sound engineers really outdid themselves.
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on 1 April 2015
My grandsons listen to this and another version of the Variations while having their bath.
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on 22 February 2006
Bach wrote very, very few variation compositions like the "Goldberg Variations," but the one's he wrote are most memorable and monumental. Early in his career, he wrote a magnificant "Aria with Variations in the Italian Manner" (BWV989). Its repeating aria at the end along with the alternating fast/bright and slow/contemplative variations foreshadowed a model in these so-called Goldberg Variations - one of the 'summation works' Bach wrote late in his life while at Leipzig. (Angela Hewitt's spirited recording of this Aria/Variations BVW 989 is on her Hyperion CD: "Fantasy and Fugue in A Minor and Other Works").
With an ever-increasing quiver of splendid recordings of Bach's keyboard music, it is not hard to believe that Angela Hewitt is the top-selling musical artist for the British Hyperion label. And this recording of her personal favorite Golderg Variations is another gem in the series. Angela Hewitt's Goldbergs - and really all her Bach or Couperin in general - may be most simplistically characterized as having a more gentle, graceful and lyrical style. She excells on bringing out the joyful rhythms in the many Baroque-era 'dances' and as well as the inherent songfulness within the music. Her sensitive lines of melody in slower movements like the opening aria have an endearing quality. Her smooth legato line, soulful infusions, intelligent progression and tasteful ornamental touches all combine to create a delightful experience with Bach.
Miss Hewitt is also a master tonal colorist and is not shy to tactfully use the pedals and nuances of the modern piano to create a greater richness in the music - while taking care to avoid blurring her individual lines. Accordingly, she elects a wide dynamic range for this recording to elicit maximum expressivity. Where a pianist like Glenn Gould goes for maximum clarity of parts by completely avoiding the pedal (creating razor-sharp articulations), Hewitt strives to balance crisp articulation with tonal beauty through such nuances. Her creativity in ornamentation and well-chosen shifts of tempo in the repeats (which she observes here) adds stylistic interest - but without straying too far from Bach's musical intentions.
Hewitt's expressivity in the Aria is as expected, thoughtful and beautiful. However, in the famous 25th "Black Pearl" Variation, she creates a somewhat veiled and dark feel with a slower tempo that is not unlike a funeral march. Personally, I felt it a bit too heavy and dreary rather than contemplative and poignant, but such is art and individual preference. Contrastingly, in the brilliant fast variations, Miss Hewitt brings an ebulient clarity and precision that is refreshing to mind and spirit. Having said that, I think Murray Perahia (in his distinquished 2000 recording) finds a slightly more vivacious and joyful mood in these fast movements that is very special (compare the first variation). Additionally, I like the overall "mood" of Perahia's 25th Variation more than Hewitt's (introspective but not as gloomy), but Hewitt's readings overall are no less enjoyable or admirable. I have both and find something in each that is special.
Other notable Goldberg recordings come from the Bach legend Rosalyn Tureck whose recordings are often a model for any serious student of the piano. Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff has also recorded some gorgeous Bach that often has a similar "sweetness" of style as Hewitt. As for Glenn Gould, his landmark 1955/1982 recordings rightfully caused a stirring in the music world and have a striking individuality and brilliantly clear articulation of voices (assuming you don't mind his intermittent humming and the less-than-perfect sound quality). Many others have also given great performances.
Hewitt's Goldberg CD received strong ratings from from many of the top reviewers like Penguin Guide and Gramophone and stands with a few others among the finer recordings. ClassicsToday was a bit more critical, giving this CD a rating of 8/10 for Artistic Quality and 9/10 for Sound Quality (noting a tendency for emotive restraint in some variations). I mostly agree with this last (8/10) assessment - out of Hewitt's Bach discography which I have, I found her Goldbergs very enjoyable but just not quite as magical as her others. But, an additional highlight of Hewitt's Goldberg CD is surely the superbly annotated notes revealing some history of this music and Ms. Hewitt's musical insights and approaches to each of the 30 variations. The notes alone might make Hewitt's CD preferable to others if you already have a version or two you really like. All-in-all, a most attractive and admirable recording (4.5 stars); but, like other reviewers and Gramophone conclude, Perahia's sparkling version (5 stars) strikes me as very special and takes top honors here in my opinion.
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on 15 August 2015
A fine piano performance of Bach's masterpiece written for harpsichord. The greater variation in volume and colour available to the pianist really is, I believe, an improvement on the restricted sonority of the harpsichord. I think JSB would have approved!
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on 23 August 2015
Angela Hewitt a wonderful musician and hearing the whole is a treat after just being aware of the more well played sections.
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on 2 August 2014
I bought this for daughter who has the hearing of a bat. The Glenn Gould recording really pissed her off because he hums throughou the recording and whilst his piano skills are great, his humming is rubbish. Hewitt was recommended as a jaw droppingly brilliant pianist and she is. And she doesn't hum while she plays. It's wonderful.
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