Bach: Aria with Thirty Variations BWV 988 (Goldberg Variations) - Angela Hewitt
Although I'm doing my darnest to stir clear of the unavoidable Messiah-Nutcracker-led holiday fare, I still find myself facing Cornelian dilemnas such as the choice I had to make last night when the National Symphony Orchestra was presenting the world première of Jennifer Hidgon's new piano concerto performed by tiny-but-mighty Yuja Wang along with Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow and the Maiden and Tchaikovsky's first symphony while at Strathmore another pianist extraordinaire, Canadian Angela Hewitt, was scheduled to tackle her field of expertise (and what a field of expertise!): Bach's Goldberg Variations. Either of these hugely talented ladies was a prime choice, of course, and I ended up picking Ms. Hewitt because of the dreamy combination of her well-established talent and Bach's enchanting masterpiece.
Supposedly composed by the German master for the 14-year-old harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg - therefore their name - so that he could help insomniac Count Hermann Keyserlingk fall asleep, Bach's Goldberg Variations first and foremost stand out as a delightful musical work on their very own. There are very few indications on how to actually play the variations, but that did not stop Angela Hewitt's fingers from assuredly working the keyboard, creating music that sounded by turn like the delicate rain drops of a refreshing spring shower or the vigorous hail of a relentless, mean thunderstorm. The thirty variations on the theme Aria are short by nature, but each and every one of them is an indispensable link in Bach's perfect chain. Angela Hewitt has long made this quasi-continuous 90-minute piece her life mission, and listening to her is like having an old friend take you on a exhaustive tour of her favorite place.
The long, enthusiastic ovation even earned us a lovely encore in the form of an arrangement of an aria from Bach's Hunt cantata. A stunning parting gift that I didn't even expect after the exhilarating but no doubt draining marathon she had just brilliantly completed. My only lingering regret was how even more enjoyable the whole experience would have been in a smaller venue, where the auditorium would have been fuller and the whole journey more intimate, but now that's really nitpicking.