Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (ca. 1720)
CD 1
Sonata No.1 in G minor BWV 1001 [16:12]
Partita No.1 in B minor BWV 1002 [28:07]
Sonata No.2 in A minor BWV 1003 [21:44]
CD 2
Partita No.2 in D minor BWV 1004 [29:11]
Sonata No.3 in C major BWV 1005 [22:10]
Partita No.3 in E major BWV 1006 [16:42]
David Juritz (violin)
rec. 23-24 March and 28-29 May 2009, Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, UK
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6142 [66:03 + 68:03]
This recording is something of a surprise. If you look at the back cover – assuming you’ve managed to find a shop which actually sells classical CDs – you will see what looks like a collection of holiday snaps which are in fact photos of David Juritz playing his violin in all kinds of unusual locations. In 2007 he busked his way around the world, funding his travels by playing these works of Bach wherever he found himself. His achievement allowed him to establish a music charity called Musequality, which would appear to be going from strength to strength, but which no doubt could use all our support.
David Juritz’s story of his travels is told on the Musequality website, but one thing I know from first hand experience is that playing on the streets teaches you ways of communicating with music which are entirely different to that in the concert hall. Being on the same level and sharing the same space rather than on the rarefied altar of a stage can be confrontational and challenging, but it can also create the most magical moments, and it is on those moments that one tries to build. This is something which I feel is carried through in Juritz’s Bach. Beautifully recorded in Nimbus’s own Wyastone Concert Hall on a 1748 Guadagnini violin, not the violin he busked with by the way, this cycle of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas is very attractive indeed. Juritz doesn’t go in for the heavier kinds of expression of older generations represented by Joseph Szigeti, nor does he labour with unnatural rubati, vibrato, or eccentric extremes of ornamentation. Everything sounds fresh and natural, not over-dramatised, but with full of warm and welcoming expression. One can feel Juritz values Bach as a kind of priceless gift which he can give unreservedly, and with a sense of musical story-telling which I find increasingly beguiling the more I hear it.
Technically I took a little while to orientate myself to the value in these performances. Used to great performances such as that of Itzhak Perlman, it sometimes takes a while to ‘tune in’ to where a player is coming from. Juritz is closer to Christian Tetzlaff in his relative lightness of touch, but while his performances don’t knock the highest ranking recordings from their perches, neither need it make any apologies to them. It may be a point of personal taste or perception, but one of my very few points of contention with David Juritz is that he could sometimes do with taking a little more time with Bach’s musical sentences, a fraction longer over the little commas which allows the brain to catch up and make the music a touch more comprehensible. Take the Corrente of the Partita BWV 1002 as an example. There is a flow of notes which is beautifully done, but the line could be broken just a fraction more to give it a firmer framework, that sensitive temporal construction which the mind creates through memory and anticipation.
It’s probably not fair, but I suspect most listeners will, like me, dive for the great Chaconne which concludes the Partita No.2 in D minor BWV 1004. This has a relatively vast span, just over 14 minutes in this case, but the variations over that marvellous progression are sequenced in such a way that the logic of the music is never in doubt. Juritz is very fine here, but there are a few minor quibbles. The arpeggios from about 5 minutes start well for instance, with a notable illusion of sustaining with the harmonic bass notes. Unfortunately as the harmonic rhythm picks up these sustained lower notes begin to intrude a little too much, so that the actual rhythms are over-distorted and start to limp. I’ve been having a listen to and enjoying Victoria Mullova on Onyx 4040, and while she is perhaps a little too mannered in the opening of this piece she does achieve a much wider range of colour and sense of drama when compared with Juritz, showing how the harmonic direction in the passage in question can be delivered without quite so much lingering on those bottom notes. I don’t like everything about Mullova’s recording – the resonance is far too overdone for a start, but she does point out a failing with David Jurwitz which just tips the balance against his being an outright winner. He is just a little too friendly and marginally too urbane to make this music everything that it could be. Bach’s ‘drama’ as such is not one of theatrical gesture, but does demand the sense that the violin is transcended; that the music takes over the medium and makes us forget that all we are listening to is some strings stretched over a box being scraped by some hairs stretched on a stick – much as we forget that a painting by Van Gogh is just some dabs of paint on a bit of old wood and canvas. Juritz takes us a long way down this road; a very long way indeed in fact, but not quite as far as some. His playing could have just a little more adventure in the potential for differentiation of colour from the violin, a little more width in dynamic variation, just a smidge more emotional ‘oomph’ and interpretative imagination.
I stand by my admiration for David Juritz’s performances of these Bach works, “the Bible of the violin.” This has been an ambitious project, and one which has been brought off with a great deal of success. Even if I wouldn’t consider these performances of the absolute very highest order, I would still commend this release for its great candour of expression and lack of pretension. This is the kind of story which inspires me to pick up my instrument and try the same thing. The way things are at the moment I would no doubt be arrested within minutes and make it no further than my local police station let alone a train station, but the idea and the fact of its realisation is marvellous proof of what one person can achieve. This recording is testament to one man’s message to the world, and I salute his achievement on the street corner as well as under the spotlight of the microphone.
Dominy Clements
Tremendous achievement, and worthy of serious consideration.