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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
The Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin: Vol. 2

Partita No. 2 in d minor (BWV 1004) [28:41]
Sonata No. 3 in C (BWV 1005) [21:49]
Partita No. 3 in E (BWV 1006) [18:05]
Jacqueline Ross (violin)
rec. May-June 2006, St Michael's Church, Highgate, London, UK. DDD
GAUDEAMUS CD GAU 359 [78:39]


In the booklet for this disc Robin Stowell describes how musicologists and musicians from generations after Bach have dealt with his six works for solo violin. He also refers to the so-called 'Bach bow', with which violinists tried to realise the polyphony in these compositions. And then he continues: "How refreshing and fascinating it now is to be able to listen to the likes of Jacqueline Ross performing these challenging works using Bach's autograph as the principal source along with the form of the instrument and bow that Bach would have employed!" One would almost think this is a fully new development. But there are many recordings with period instruments available, and the oldest date from more than forty years ago! And does anyone still believe that the 'Bach bow' has any historical relevance.

The three partitas and three sonatas for violin solo were composed at the latest in 1720, when Bach lost his position as 'Hofkapellmeister' in Cöthen. There is no certainty as to why Bach wrote them. Some suggest he may have played them during concerts at the court in Cöthen. That is a possibility: Bach was a most accomplished violinist after all. But it is also possible Bach did not have performances in mind when he wrote these works. They could also be considered explorations of various compositional techniques as well as of the possibilities of the instrument. In that case one could compare them with keyboard works like the Wohltemperirte Clavier or the Kunst der Fuge.

In these six solos Bach pays tribute to the two national styles then dominant in Europe. In the three Sonatas he links up with the Italian 'sonata da chiesa'. They all consist of four movements (slow-fast-slow-fast), the second of which is a fugue. The three Partitas are influenced by the French style and consist of dance movements; the number of movements increases from four (Partita No. 1) to six (Partita No. 3). In particular the second is modelled after the French suite as it closes with an extended chaconne. Despite the Italian and French influences these solos have an unmistakable German flavour, in particular because of the use of polyphony.

This is the second volume of the complete recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo; the first volume I am not acquainted with. When I started listening there were several aspects of her performances which I noticed with satisfaction. She seems to be well aware of the rhetorical nature of these compositions, and as a result adopts a strongly speaking style of playing, in line with the baroque principle of 'music as speech'. I like the clear articulation and the differentiation between good and bad notes. Other positive aspects are a good sense of rhythm and the contrast between and within movements, although I think this could be stronger, for instance within the chaconne from the Partita No. 2. I would also have liked to hear more dynamic shades. The preludio of the Partita No. 3 is played with panache, and I really liked the dancing rhythm of the gavotte en rondeau. The menuets of this partita are also very well done, with some nice ornamentation.

So there is definitely a lot to enjoy. But there is one thing which bothers me: Ms Ross tends to give too much emphasis to the first note of chords, which sometimes makes them fall apart. As a result the rhythmic pulse, which I admire in these interpretations, is sometimes undermined. That is certainly the case in the fugue of the Sonata No. 3: the emphasis on the first note of the chord adds a fraction to the time of the chord and disrupts the rhythm, which otherwise is well realised. As I can't believe this is a technical shortcoming, it must be a deliberate artistic decision, which I don't understand.

So far I haven't heard a recording which satisfies me in every respect, and maybe such an interpretation is an illusion anyway. Keeping that in mind I do not hesitate in recommending  this recording. It should be ranked among the best available, at least on the basis of this second volume.

Johan van Veen



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