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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Partitas for solo violin
Partita No 1 in B minor, BWV 1002 (1720) [27:32]
Partita No 2 in D minor, BWV 1004 (1720) [28:21]
Partita No 3 in E, BWV 1008 (1720) [18:32]
Rachel Kolly (violin)
rec. 30-31 March 2020, Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt, Germany
INDESENS INDE141 [71:21]

I’ve selected those movements I feel most striking. The Ciaccona, the final movement of Partita 2, stands head and shoulders above all others. Its four-bar ground bass comes in 64 statements, the ground proving sufficiently malleable for Bach, and Rachel Kolly, to work magic with the melodic line it sustains. Statements (hereafter #) 1-2 are presented formally by Kolly with a stark, piercing authority in her double and ‘triple’ stopping. From #5-6 (tr. 13, 0:53) the contrast in mood of eloquent lament in upper tessitura is made distinctive. Another memorable contrast is in #9 (1:42) between the phrases with an apex of soaring quavers and Kolly’s emphasis on the low notes at the end and beginning of those phrases. A new manner in #15 (2:30) is delivery in two clear lines, the upper’s quavers punctuating the semiquaver runs in the lower, Kolly’s cue to be zestful, lightening the piece, especially with the introduction of descents and ascents incorporating demisemiquavers from #17 (3:08). A second lamenting motif comes at #21 (3:50) with repeated semiquavers on the highest notes in their clusters of four, a contrast of animation and reflection. A fresh, quite ethereal sound world Kolly creates from #23 (4:15) through arpeggiation around a melody picked out sometimes in the highest, sometimes the lowest register. This melody climaxes in #28-29 (5:15), quite tautly from Kolly.

At #34 (6:36) the key changes from D minor to D major, the effect from Kolly of calm and humility, only gradually flowering. The repeated semiquaver motif of #21 resurfaces in #41 (7:57), perkier in D major and extended to three notes, showcased in high, middle and low registers and now enriched in two and three parts. This culminates in #45’s (8:41) dense presentation of the opening statement exultantly from Kolly. The return to D minor from #53 (10:27) instils a sombre mood despite the mollifying effect of the elaboration of the opening statement return. Other elaborations create a sense of denouement: the lowest notes in quavers joining phrases in #9 become semiquavers in #56 (11:07), demisemiquavers in #57 (11:18). From #58 (11:29) to #61 (12:05) the upper line is a constantly sounded A, below which in cross rhythm a surprisingly alluring, increasing chromatic melody is picked out in disciplined intensity by Kolly. Release comes in #61 (12:16) in rising semiquavers in triplets. The final appearance of the opening statement in #63 (12:28) Kolly displays cleansed and serene.

I compare Tedi Papavrami (Alpha 756), also recorded in 2020. Papavrami goes for a melodic, musing emphasis in his opening, with #5 winsome. In #9 he stresses the higher rather than lower notes. In #17 he prefers lightness and neatness to Kolly’s biting low notes and excitement. Papavrami’s high note lament focus in #21 is as telling as Kolly’s but her demisemiquavers in #22 are more shimmering. Both provide distinctive sequences of arpeggiations from #23, Papavrami with light, melodious thrumming cleanly appreciated, Kolly conjuring a soft, mysterious new sound within a breadth of landscape to a high, more pleading climax. This exemplifies a frequent difference: Kolly more dazzling and extrovert, Papavrami less dramatic, more inward, yet deeply felt. In #31 I prefer Kolly’s firmer punctuation to Papavrami’s focus on delicacy. For him D major comes homely and humble in a warm gathering; Kolly is less warm, with a feeling of beginning again, acquiring confidence little by little. Both give the repeated notes from #41 due prominence, Papavrami making them more beacon like where Kolly has them quite sweet but firm. Papavrami treats the #45 return of the opening statement richly, with more conviction and luxuriant arpeggiation in #48. Kolly’s return is for me over formal, the climax a bit milked albeit the sonority resplendent. However, her return to D minor is more striking, where Papavrami lowers the temperature. Yet I prefer his smoothly picking out the melody from #56 where Kolly parades dazzling technique. The semiquavers in triplets in #61 Papavrami makes gleeful and more distinctive than Kolly, though she conveys a clear sense of peroration and her final return of the opening statement in #63 is firm, its resolution in #64 admirably staunch. Papavrami’s close appears not so climactic as the end of a natural process. For me this seems equally valid. Comparison shows there are many nuances in this work performers can reveal.

Best of the rest? In Partita 1, Movement 3, a Sarabande The New Grove marks as “characterized by an intense, serious affect” which Kolly certainly provides. Stately, yet brimful with feeling, it’s packed with triple stopping from the opening and plentiful double stopping. Every note comes clear and concentrated from Kolly, but also the ability to illuminate key ones, like the E (tr. 5, 0:21) and then F sharp (0:25). The succession of downward motifs in the second section, especially that at 1:16, is like a procession of sighs. Extra ornaments are tastefully applied in the repeats, but in the second section for me distract from its greater intensity, though I like Kolly’s appoggiaturas at 2:49 and 3:03. Hers is a moving account, aided by momentum. The double, a ghost-like variant (tr. 6) following the first presentation, faster, in running quavers is a release, like seeing the same folk gliding, not needing to be dignified. It feels like cleansing to the essence of the melodic argument.

In Partita 3 I pick Movement 2, a Loure. Grove calls it a “slow, virtuoso dance of a noble, majestic but languid character”. Kolly’s playing, shining and exquisite, is that. Here’s an expansive melodic line involving two people: effectively a soprano and an alto, requiring from the player plenty of double stopping (e.g., at tr. 15, 0:05) and arpeggiated ‘triple’ stopping (e.g., 0:50). The result is the sense of a sympathetic friend’s supporting comments to the arioso. But the concentration required to achieve this with absolute clarity, which Kolly achieves, blunts for me a little spontaneity and feeling. Yet in the repeat of the first strain Kolly adds extra ornamentation that’s both stylish and lightens the mood.

Michael Greenhalgh

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