Johann Sebastian Bach




"There are Bach aficionados who can't get enough of the Goldberg Variations and Bach aficionados who can. The acclaimed American pianist Ronald Hawkins is, as his seventh album, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (MSR) makes obvious, one of the former. Less obvious is what Hawkins has to add to the increasing number of Goldbergs, as what's unique about his emerges only gradually: an awestruck softness of touch appropriate to someone who calls the piece both "holy" and "magical" in his liner notes."
Arsenio Orteza, World Magazine - March 2010
"This is a truly masterful work which is expertly performed and recorded on this highly inspirational recording."
Jeff Perkins, BlogCritics - November 2009]
"[Ronald Hawkins'] reading of the indomitable Goldbergs [is] very smooth and almost luxuriant sound-wise... Hawkins is a fine pianist, no question... I did find myself admiring of his careful phrasing and songlike approach to many of these pieces, and the overall experience was a pleasant one indeed... tantalizing and intriguing..."
Steve Ritter, Audiophile Audition - October 2009
"[Ronald Hawkins] is technically accomplished and ...uses his technical skill in intelligent and respectful service to the music. His way with the piece is not a razzle-dazzle virtuoso show, tossing off the fast-paced variations at breakneck speed in a “see-what-I-can-do” display. Overall, the pianist’s approach seems to be a Romantic one, with slight rhythmic hesitations and morendo phrase endings being common effects... Hawkins is an artist to watch..."
Jerry Dubins, Fanfare - September / October 2009
"As often as I've heard J. S. Bach's Goldberg Variations for keyboard, I still return to each new performance with renewed vigor and inspiration. That sense of renewal and refreshment really struck me when listening to this new version by American pianist Ronald Hawkins. The South Carolina native draws the most beautiful tones imaginable from his instrument, Schimmel K280T, and he is keenly aware of the rhythmic profiles of each of the pieces that make up this monumental, but nonetheless intimate, work into which Bach poured the greatest gifts of his musical and spiritual imagination... Hawkins' zestful approach to the quick variations, and the care with which he develops the more deeply introspective ones, calls for special commendation...  All of [the variations] require, and receive from Hawkins, considerable nimbleness in execution, which includes the numerous hand crossings and redistribution of notes that are a particular hazard of this work... The recurrence of the Aria brings the Goldbergs to a close with a wonderful sense of symmetry and a feeling of completion. In this performance, it is very satisfying."
Phil Muse, Audio Club of Atlanta - September 2009
"This release by South Carolina-born pianist Ronald Hawkins passes the test facing Goldberg neophytes: he delivers a distinctive version. It's highly pianistic, with no attempt to create a harpsichord-like texture, and after the massive minor variation 25 he even lets the tempo fluctuate in the following variation as if to release the tremendous tension that has built up. The variations don't seem to fall into the sets of three that are implicit in most readings of the work; each has its own emotional flavor, and the dynamic range is large. What makes Hawkins' approach different from old-school Romantic performances of Bach is that he uses the pedal comparatively lightly, on a par with Glenn Gould, perhaps. His differentiations of the texture are accomplished mostly with dynamics and especially attacks. Gould is certainly one of his inspirations, but the effect of his playing is different from Gould's; Hawkins is more meticulous, in a way, never racing, using the piano to emphasize inner voices and the beginnings of contrapuntal lines. [Hawkins'] unusual approach adds to the long dialogue over this endlessly fascinating piece..."
James Manheim, AllMusic Guide - August 2009
Hailed for his “great depth of poetry, understanding and excitement” (Gazette), American pianist Ronald Hawkins is quickly establishing himself as one of the country’s leading pianists and has earned international acclaim for his sensitive and insightful performances. Subsequent to his international debut in 1997 at The Rachmaninoff Conference held in England, he has performed in venues throughout North America and Europe, with appearances that include Carnegie Hall, The Lyceum, Tchaikovsky Great Hall and St. Martin-in-the-Fields. In September 2007, Mr. Hawkins received the prestigious 2007 Young Career Award for his achievements in music. Other awards and honors include the Richard Ford Foundation Deeper Piano Studies Grant, Hartt School Faculty Development Grant, Rose Hanus Full Scholarship, Sullivan Grant, Who’s Who Among American Universities and Colleges, Marion Park Lewis Foundation for the Arts Endowment, Cecil Hefner Scholarship, Shenandoah Conservatory Keyboard Scholarship, Greer Young Artist Scholarship, Greer Music Club Scholarship and honors in piano and composition at Brevard Summer Music Camp. In February 2002, Web Concert Hall named him Artist of the Month.

Ronald Hawkins appears on Jamlet Records, Pier Records, PBS Records, with a discography that includes “Ronald Hawkins, Piano”, “Journey”, “Christmas Is”, “Ancient Irish Airs & Dances”, “Biltmore Estate Christmas” and “The War That Made America”. He has also recorded for two PBS mini-series, They Made America and The War that Made America. Mr. Hawkins, a native of South Carolina, began his musical studies at the age of sixteen and was performing in concert within eighteen months. He earned his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Piano Performance at Shenandoah Conservatory, and his principal teachers have included Samuel Bartos, Frederic Chiu, Paul Ostrovsky, Elizabeth Temple and Ruby Morgan.

Ronald Hawkins is a Schimmel Artist.

Personal Reflections
My first experience with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations was during my undergraduate studies at Shenandoah Conservatory. I was taking a piano literature class with professor Karen Walker and we listened to two recordings: one by Glenn Gould (1981) and other by Vladimir Feltsman (Live from Moscow Conservatory). The two recordings were total opposites. Feltsman changed registers and went “out of the box” while Gould’s approach was more conservative. I remember thinking it was a holy piece, and for my mid-term paper I wrote about the historical aspect of the piece, never entertaining the idea I would ever study nor play it. For those of us who wish to approach the phenomenon of Johann Sebastian Bach, we must start from the strong faith of his soul. We must be content with the old wisdom that there are things in Heaven and Earth that cannot be grasped by our intellect. It is one of the most magical pieces ever composed, and the truth of it has survived for more than two hundred and sixty-five years and will be admired by musicians and music lovers all around the world for centuries to come.

Performance Notes
Whether performing the Goldberg Variations live, or making a recording, one has to make decisions regarding the repeats. In a live concert setting, I play all repeats in the work; however, due to the limits of a single disc, I have decided to play only those repeats where Bach has written a 2nd ending: Variations Nos. 2, 4, 6, 16 and 25. Although Bach composed the Goldberg Variations for the harpsichord with two manuals, having specified in the score which variations were for one or two manuals, the work can nonetheless be played with on the (one manual) piano. Besides learning the music, a great challenge in playing the Goldberg Variations on the piano is the choreography necessary to accommodate the numerous hand crossings and redistribution of notes, as the same note is often played in both hands.


MSR Classics