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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Two-part Inventions, BWV 772/786 [22:53]
Partita for Violin Solo No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 (ca.1720) [28:38]
Three-Part Inventions, BWV 787-801 [27:35]
Janine Jansen (violin); Maxim Rysanov (viola); Torleif Thedeén (cello)
rec. Teldex Studios, Berlin, 25-30 April 2007 (Inventions), St Martin’s Church, Hampshire, 6-7 August 2007 (Partita)
DECCA 4759081 [79:09]

Having seen this CD in the shops over here in The Netherlands, I was surprised to receive the review disc with the cover photo you see above. For some reason, the picture of Janine Jansen as an almost chaste but somewhat impish convent schoolgirl was considered suitable for the international release – no doubt chiming in with the otherwise fairly serious repertoire on the disc. The Dutch release presents a rather peachier image (see right), but before readers start clamouring for expensive imports sent in plain wrapping I can reveal that the picture on the cover is included inside the booklet for the International release, though that’s about as exciting as it gets. 
Marketing strategies aside, this is a gorgeous disc, through and through. “These pieces are not played enough. They deserve to be played! They are such wonderful, genius pieces.” Janine Jansen’s enthusiasm for these versions of Bach’s Inventions is clear, and her background as a chamber musician is further elaborated in the booklet notes. “I have played chamber music virtually all my life. When I was nine years old my violin teacher put me in a piano quintet and I’ve never looked back. It is so important to start at an early age because you learn to react to what is going on around you in such a direct and intimate way. Chamber music is so revealing - your true personality shines through in your playing. It is one of my great loves.”
The Two-part and Three-part Inventions are of course originally solo keyboard pieces, and they appear her in straight transcriptions: the Two-part Inventions for violin and viola, the Three-part Inventions adding a cello. For the recording Janine and colleagues worked directly from Bach’s originals, with Maxim Rysanov’s viola part written out in the alto clef. Occasional reference was made to the existing arrangement by Ferdinand David, for whom Mendelssohn composed his E minor Violin Concerto, but these adaptations only crop up when one of the instruments needs to make an octave transposition for practical reasons in order to play a melodic line. Jansen grew up with the Baroque style, but, not claiming to be a specialist, has incorporated Baroque performing to enrich an intuitive sense of the music: “It’s an ongoing search to find a way to play Bach. And then of course to play chamber music, to have two people coming together, the challenge… is about finding the same musical idea, the same character, the same articulation, the same phrasing.”
All of the players contribute with the equal weight demanded of such well balanced counterpoint, and with plenty of subtle playing and early-music restraint all arguments against such versions of this music are effortlessly brushed aside. The Two-part Inventions can sometimes seem a little dry and academic on the keyboard, and the small but significant differences between the violin and viola enhance the music and bring it to life charmingly. The same goes for the Three-part Inventions, my only slight niggle being that the cello is placed on the right, where Torleif Thedéen’s part would always be taken by the left hand on the keyboard. This may well have been a deliberate choice, removing these chamber-music performances as far as possible from their origins. It’s certainly far from being a serious point and the ear adjusts with no problems, but I’m sure any pianist or harpsichord player will feel a slight twinge of disorientation to start with.
The central work on the CD is a solo performance of the justly famous Partita No. 2 in D minor. This is of course a core work of the violin repertoire, and Jansen admits to a great deal of trepidation before recording the famous Chaconne. Her approach is, much as with the chamber music, basically romantic. She incorporates a natural expressive vibrato, and compared just about any alternative I can name there are few if any real surprises. Her Courante and Gigue are both brisk and playful, the double-stoppings in the Sarabande and elsewhere impeccably intonated, the whole being beautifully phrased. She doesn’t go in for eccentric rubati or wilful extremes of dynamic contrast, and when we do reach the Chaconne is very much has the feeling of a continuation of the Partita as a whole, rather than a stand-alone blockbuster. Just comparing with one famous example also covered in these pages, that of Itzhak Perlman, one immediately gets the sense of ease Jansen has with this music. Perlman is more dramatic, emphasising crucial points and maintaining a kind of visceral intensity even through passages of transition: you can sense the sweat building on Perlman’s brow. Jansen isn’t superficial in the Chaconne or indeed elsewhere, but with a gentler vibrato and often less weight from bow into string the contrasts come from a less earthy basis. Her tone more silvery, and sometimes seems to take off like dancing insects into a night sky – just listen to those runs from about 4:09 into the piece. This however means that the build up of intensity through the following minutes is dramatic indeed. A similar effect comes from 11:36, where the violin almost seems to want to vanish without trace, to the incredible climax and an understated conclusion. Janine Jansen’s pacing and control throughout this Partita is excellent, and I’m sold completely: it can only be a matter of time before she records all of the Sonatas and Partitas, and I’ll be there in the queue.    
The recording of the solo Partita was done in a different location to that of the Inventions, but both have a similar resonance. All are done very well indeed, but the solo violin recording is particularly toothsome and immediate, though with a far greater presence than with the other works. All of the instruments used are of interest: Jansen playing the ‘Barrere’ Stradivarius, and both the viola and cello being original 18th century examples. At nearly 80 minutes there can be no grumbles about value, and with musicianship of the highest order this has to be a Bach collection for anyone with an interest in chamber music for strings and an alternative view on the Inventions. Who knows, if the Dutch cover had crossed the border there might even have been some Bach virgins tempted to try it for the first time.
Dominy Clements                 


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