For classical pianists, recording Bach's Goldberg Variations is a career milestone. Releasing a second recording of the work, as Angela Hewitt has just done, is a rare achievement.
Recorded in December 2015 and recently released as Hyperion's record of the month for October, this new album appears 16 years after Hewitt's highly regarded first recording of the work, praised at the time as "a miracle of music-making at its most instinctive and spontaneous" and the crowning achievement of her complete Bach cycle.
With this new release, Hewitt draws comparison to Glenn Gould, who also recorded the Goldberg Variations twice, his albums appearing in 1955 and 1981. Whereas Gould's second version was remarkably slower and more deliberate than his first, Hewitt's new take on the Goldberg Variations can be perceived as her own evolving response to a work she describes as "a magnificent edifice that is both beautifully proportioned and astonishingly varied." (Interestingly, her new recording runs three minutes and 40 seconds longer than her first.)
As usual, Hewitt has written extensive notes to accompany her new album, including historical context and analysis of each variation. She describes Variation 2 as a warm-up to the "hijinks" that follow; Variation 13 is the "emotional turning-point in the work;" she experiences a "rebirth" with the arrival of Variation 22; and Variation 25 is, "without a doubt, the greatest of all the variations, demanding the utmost in musicianship and expressiveness." Her insights constitute an informative companion to the recording.
Fans in Hewitt's hometown of Ottawa can hear her play Beethoven's Piano Sonata, Op. 79, and Piano Concerto No. 1 with the National Arts Centre Orchestra on Oct. 12. Later that week, she plays chamber music by Clara and Robert Schumann at the National Gallery of Canada.