September 21, 2009 – 3:57 am

It’s been 28 years since Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Here’s a classic rendition, performed live, as nature intended.

Click on the panels for a better view or to download artwork.

Bach - Goldberg Variations BWV 988 [no label, 1CD]

Live at the Royal Festival Hall, London, UK, April 29, 2009. An excellent FM stereo broadcast.

Bach’s Goldberg Variations is the piano composition that studies the form of variation. When Angela Hewitt offered her version, the Penguin Guide and Gramophone applauded her recording, marking it a classic interpretation. Early this year, Hewitt chose to perform the Goldberg Variations live and did not disappoint all those in attendance.

For other noobs like us, JS Bach wrote this piece and had it published in 1741. It has become a standard for “keyboard practice”. Legend has it Bach wrote it for an insomniac Count who had a favourite 14-year-old harpsichord player called Johann Gottlieb Goldberg.

The young Goldberg played it for his mentor whenever he had bouts of sleeplessness. Goldberg was a German virtuoso harpsichordist and organist. The variations have a soothing effect when the “riff” [so to speak] is played repeatedly in different “variations”.

Music fan EWGSHL located the following reviews of Hewitt’s studio recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations:

‘It is a remarkable achievement, arguably the best to appear on disc since Glenn Gould’s second celebrated recording from 1981… [It] is the sheer technical command of her playing, coupled with such elegantly supple musicianship, that makes the performance so compelling… Everything is right, everything is natural - this is Bach on the piano of the highest quality imaginable’. (The Guardian)

‘After five days of recording sessions last August, Angela Hewitt returned in the small hours of September 1 to give a complete “performance” for a few friends of the Bach’s Aria with Diverse Variations. Fortunately, the engineers decided to keep the tapes rolling, for this, according to Hyperion’s executive director, Ted Perry, is the “take” Hewitt and Hyperion decided to release. The resulting record is a miracle of music-making at its most instinctive and spontaneous. Even by Hewitt’s exalted standards it is extraordinary: in the brilliant toccatas, she creates, with her amazing articulation, the illusion of the music being plucked by the modern piano’s hammers; her virtuosity and joie de vivre in the fast variations - try 1, 14 and “the most dangerous of all the toccatas”, No. 20 - take the breath away. She also penetrates the heart of the great 13th and 25th variations without false romantic sentiment. The reprise of the Aria at the close - after a majestic variation 29 - is shattering. If you only buy one Bach album in this anniversary year, let it be this one. A desert-island disc!’ (The Sunday Times)

‘Hewitt is one of the very finest Bach interpreters around. She possesses all the mechanical skills needed to master the difficulties facing the soloist, but never loses sight of the humanity that is evident in every note… Playing of the highest order, and one of the finest recordings of this work you’re ever likely to hear’. (The Scotsman)

So when Hewitt decided to play the Variations live, we’re glad the BBC was on hand to record and broadcast the performance and, best of all, Tantris88 was prepared to record it and share it on the net.

Tantris88 wrote: “This is an extraordinary performance of the Goldberg Variations, spell-binding in its power and insight. All the repeats seem to be observed, which means that the performance is just under 80 minutes. (I have excluded all the radio commentary in order to fit this onto one CD, and we are lucky that the audience did not break into applause for several seconds after the final note dies away).”

Thanks to Tantris88 for sharing and to jaydeee for the artwork.
- The Little Chicken

Note: Click on the highlighted tracks to download the MP3s (these are high quality MP3s - sample rate of 192 kbps). As far as we can ascertain, these tracks have never been officially released on CD.

These tracks are no longer available for download. Kindly email us at [email protected] if you want to download them at a later date.

Track 01. Goldberg Variations (1:19:48)

Angela Hewitt recorded and released her studio performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2000 on the Hyperion label. It received critical acclaim and she remains the label’s top-selling artist. Buy it here.


  2. Wonderful classical selection - and a great balance to the hard rock. Coincidentally, I had just first heard a portion of the GVs on KUSC and was anxious to hear more - and lo and behold - what shows up the very next day! I hope listeners will give it a chance and some time.

    And if you’ve an ear for REQUESTS, may I suggest a Shostakovich String Quartet and what I wouldn’t give to hear the recent 9/11/09 “Love & Death” performance of Iggy Pop & Marc Ribot in Germany!


    By lowendbill on Sep 25, 2009

  3. Glenn Gould’s second recording of the Goldberg Variations was the first classical album I ever owned. I’ve since accumulated a great variety of performances, including a transcriptions for string trio and a harpsichord performance by Keith Jarrett. On the basis of this live performance I’m now going to have to go out and buy Hewitt’s studio version. Sigh. So much for the budget. Thanks!

    By jfrancis on Sep 25, 2009

  4. Thx excellent idea!

    By nanker on Nov 19, 2009

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