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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Con Brio

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas for solo violin

No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001
No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003
No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005
James Greening-Valenzuela (violin)
Recorded December 2002 at Holdcraft Studios, Pleasant Hill, California, USA
CON BRIO CBR-231
[no timings given]

The Bach unaccompanied violin sonatas have been worthy objectives for accomplished players for centuries; but the real problem is not who can play these fiendishly difficult works, but how they should be performed. The Sonatas contain both French and Italian influences and there are fugues in all of them. The soloist is confronted not only with the technical problems created by the contrapuntal nature of the music but also its melodic and harmonic complexity; yet its very freedom from academic conventions leaves such questions open. For these reasons playing them is a daunting prospect.

There are marked differences in construction, and therefore in the sound, between baroque violins and those of the 19th century onwards. This disc is recorded with a Pietro Giovanni Guarneri of Bach’s time, though with significant alterations that make it, for practical purposes, a ‘modern’ instrument. It has steel strings and is played with a modern bow at ‘modern’ pitch (A=440). This creates some interesting problems for both player and listener. Greening-Valenzuela plays expressively throughout, and his technical resources are impressive, but it is impossible not to make comparisons with the softer sound of gut strings and the flexible and expressive possibilities of the baroque bow, especially in matters of articulation and ornamentation.

From the opening bars of the G minor Sonata we are clearly in for a thrilling time, with finely marked counterpoint and somewhat measured tempi; but in movements that call for a less magisterial approach often leads to a certain slackness and lack of colour in the playing. This disc would not be my choice for this inexhaustible music but makes for interesting comparisons with more historically based performances.

Roy Brewer



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