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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Sonatas and Partitas, Volume 1
Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV1001! (1720) [15:40]
Partita No. 1 in B minor, BWV1002 (1720) [30:14]
Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV1003 (1720) [22:57]
Jacqueline Ross (violin)
rec. 2007, St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London
GAUDEAMUS CDGAU358 [69:14]



The majority of Bach's instrumental works date from the years 1717-1723, when he was employed as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. The CD liner here confidently dates these three pieces as 1720, but it is difficult to be as precise as that. It was Bach’s habit to produce collections of pieces in groups of six, their overall balance also reflecting his obsession with order and symmetry. This is certainly the case with the sonatas and partitas for violin, BWV 1001-1006, as it is also with the six suites for solo cello or the six Brandenburg Concertos, to name two other examples from these years.
 
In these solo pieces Bach preferred to adopt the principle of the sonata da chiesa (church sonata), as developed a generation before by Corelli (1653-1713), with movements following the sequence slow-fast-slow-fast. The writing for violin is typical of Bach's commitment to using the instrument to its full capacity, assuming great virtuosity of the player in the process of creating a wide-ranging musical experience.
 
The American violinist Jacqueline Ross is a Bach player with a distinguished pedigree. Her ASV recordings of the duo sonatas with the harpsichordist David Ponsford were generally well received, and her sensitivity to the master’s music and its style is evident in every bar. In these solo pieces she seldom states her case vehemently, preferring instead to articulate the music with subtle nuances of phrasing and dynamic. Perhaps this style of performance has something to do with her instrument: an Amati violin from the early baroque era.
 
These performances exude a subtle understanding of baroque style and musical manners. For example, the way that Ross articulates the repeated semiquaver motifs within Bach’s fugal textures could hardly be more effective, and her handling of fast tempi is also particularly well judged. In slower music too the musical judgements are appropriately made, as in the Allemande movement of Partita No. 1.
 
However, this recording enters a competitive market place. There are several alternatives from splendid violinists, for instance Rachel Podger on Channel Classics and Arthur Grumiaux on Philips. The latter, although recorded four decades ago, benefits from good sound and strongly characterised musicianship.
 
It is probably true that any artist who is good enough to be able to record the Bach sonatas and partitas will provide the listener with a worthwhile experience. Ross has perhaps the best recorded sound to support her interpretations, which are subtle if rather less strongly characterized than those of Podger or Grumiaux. But she offers abundant rewards, including a willingness to adopt searching tone and phrasing in slower movements, such as the opening movement, Grave, of the A minor Sonata. This is therefore one of the highlights among these three performances. The production standards are high, including excellent insert notes by Robin Stowell.
 
Terry Barfoot
 


 

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