Recital in the Edinburgh Festival 2002

2002-08-19 / The Scotsman / Martin Parker

WHETHER you prefer to play Schiff, Richter, Gould or any other great recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations after dinner to impress your friends, you can put them all back on the shelf and leave them there from now on.

Enthusiasts try to own Bach and arrive at the concert with preconceptions about the Goldberg that colour perceptions of how things sound in the concert. But whoever is playing, the truth is you are not hearing Bach in any definitive sense at all but the voice of the performer. In a live situation you have only one criterion – is this working or not?

It was not that Angela Hewitt’s delivery eclipsed all others on Friday night but that she played music for the moment and infatuated the audience, a sell-out, for the whole hour. For my ears at least, nothing other than live performance of this great work will do again.

Hewitt’s playing was intelligent, firm and spontaneous though it was not the Variations that sent shivers down my spine but her encore of Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.

This piece is reduced to supermarket music these days but post-Goldberg her choice was a masterstroke; simple, pure and affecting even for the hardest of hearts.