Recital at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa

2005-01-19 / Ottawa Citizen / Richard Todd

Hewitt delivers ‘profound musical experience’

Many people consider the Goldberg Variations to be Bach’s greatest keyboard work and, by extension, possibly the greatest thing ever written for the keyboard.

Some of the same people, and many others, think of Angela Hewitt as the finest Bach pianist of our time. It’s no surprise therefore that the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall was packed last night when Hewitt was on hand to explain and perform this monumental masterpiece.

Nor was it any surprise that the concert was one of the finest of this, or any other, season. Though Hewitt is more individual in her Goldbergs than she is with most of her other Bach, there is a rightness to every phrase that transcends the preconceptions most of us have as to how this music should sound.

Even the tiny handful of blemishes — two or three indistinct figures in Variation 20, for example — scarcely amounted to ripples on the surface of such a profound musical experience. And that same variation was blessed with some of the best of Hewitt’s always superb voicing.

Variation 24 was remarkable for its growing translucence, but it was also much gentler than we normally hear it. You might imagine that, given the quiet intensity of Variation 25, the emotional summit of the work, that a gentle 24 would not work well at all.

To the contrary, it prepared the emotional groundwork with incomparable subtlety. And Variation 25 was, on its own, a complete and sufficient musical thought world.

Other highlights included a spirited and engaging rendering of the Fughato Variation 10 and the exceptionally robust and animated Variation 30.

And when the end came, the repetition of the opening Aria, the playing was so soft and nuanced that one could hardly have heard it had it not been for the rapt silence that Hewitt’s playing commanded.