Classical music hit for the cycle last week, with a solo recital, an orchestral performance and an opera that were all exceptional.

András Schiff: the Hungarian pianist and scholar returned to share his love of JS Bach for another two recital programs (he similarly gave two last year), jointly hosted by SF Performances and the SF Symphony's Great Performers series. We attended the second one on Sunday. On the slate, the Goldberg variations. The piece begins and ends with a simple aria. In between, its bass line and tonal structure is recycled thirty times to provide the backbone for the variations: a parade of dances and gigues and fugues and laments that travels to all the corners of Bach's musical universe. Each variation is 32 bars, each section is repeated twice, the whole proceedings last an hour and fifteen minutes, and Schiff entranced us throughout. His playing combined the meticulous care of a surgeon with the freedom that revealed the emotional depth of many of the variations. Technically perfect, with not a note out of place. And throughout, Schiff displayed his vision. He is taking a trip through a familiar landscape when playing the variations, and has the whole itinerary clearly laid out in his mind. He's not playing the piece as a sequence of vignettes, but as a structured whole, building up to the finale of the 30th variation step by step, with plenty of symmetries to highlight along the way. Variation 25 was immensely sad and yet hopeful that such beauty could raise out of such despair. Variation 29 was a wow moment: fast paced and sonorous. And Variation 30 transcends a humorous take on a popular tune into a joyful musical apogee.