Angela Hewitt – Goldberg Variations

Goldberg Variations, BWV988

Angela Hewitt (piano)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 29 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Angela Hewitt. ©Peter HundertMuch like most of this evening’s audience, Angela Hewitt’s approach to Bach’s Goldberg Variations was one of absolute reverence – religious devotion, even – finding an inner-narrative that sustained her through 80 minutes.

However, one of the many qualities a performer can bring to Bach’s immortal music is joy – this was something utterly eschewed by Hewitt. Glenn Gould was able to revel in Bach’s genius whereas Hewitt is professorial and stern. Such unremitting intensity did no favours to the music over such a long duration. Those Variations with strong, thrusting rhythms were contrived and ill-at-ease, without a sense of direction. There was almost some humour (in Variation 9) but then the irony was missed, Hewitt ‘correcting’ herself in pompous fashion; she sees no place for frivolity in this music.

It is though possible to marvel at what Hewitt excels at: an ability to pose ‘big’ questions through the music. There was great profundity in the (apparently) ‘simplest’ of musical ideas – Variation 15 – and throughout there was breathtaking beauty. When observing repeats (all of them) Hewitt wisely made them completely different. Her control (another Hewitt trait) of the various ‘voices’ was superb and one has to marvel at any pianist being able to play this music, as she also does the whole of the Well-Tempered Clavier, without a score.

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