The term genius is often overused in our modern world where exceptional talent can be confused with something far higher. However, there are no blurred lines in the case of Johann Sebastian Bach who remains, unquestionably, one of the greatest composers of all time.
This bland and rather simplistic statement is perhaps best complimented by the observation that countless experts have spent decades marvelling at the near mathematical precision behind his compositional style.
Bach was a supreme craftsman whose incomparable genius is revealed through his extraordinarily complex compositions. He was a master of counterpoint who possessed a musical mind so complex that he was able to weave multiple lines within his work. These are just a few humble observations of the genius that radiates from the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Today I would like to bring to your attention two releases from the MSR Classics label that pay homage to the man and his music.
J.S Bach – Goldberg Variations (MS 1324) – Ronald Hawkins
Widely accepted as one of the finest examples of the aforementioned genius the Goldberg Variations were originally commissioned by Baron von Keyserling and were named after the harpsichord player who would play them.
On this record internationally renowned pianist, American Ronald Hawkins, delivers a sublime and delightful recording that pays all due homage to the complexity of the work, whilst maintaining its uplifting and near spiritual beauty. The Variations, is exactly that, a vast variety of atmosphere and styles. However, the whole is built upon a firm foundation of underlying themes that recur throughout.
For this recording, as opposed to his live concert renditions, Ronald Hawkins has chosen to play only those repeats for which Bach wrote alternative endings (numbers 2, 4, 6, 16, and 25). The Variations were originally written for harpsichord, with Bach specifying on the score for each piece which were for one or two manuals.
The album notes explain that by playing them on the piano, a one manual instrument, Ronald Hawkins has had to overcome the challenge of numerous hand crossings and redistribution of notes which often result in the same note being played in both hands.
This very fact perfectly illustrates the complex musical genius that was Bach and the mastery of the instrument by the artist Ronald Hawkins present on this delightful recording.
The Variations end with a return to the opening "Aria" thus completing a symmetrical sense of closure within a cyclical form. The result is a highly satisfying and musically logical conclusion that explores the intensely emotional (number 25), the vibrant (number 29), and the dramatic (number 16), amid a myriad of texture, style, mood, and construction.