Bach: Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004; Ciaccona for solo violin and four voices; Chorales

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: ECM
WORKS: Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004; Ciaccona for solo violin and four voices; Chorales
PERFORMER: Christoph Poppen (violin); Hilliard Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 461 895-2
The claim that the famous chaconne from Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin, BWV 1004, is also an elaborate, esoteric tombeau for his first wife, Maria Barbara, was originally tested on disc in 1998. Glossa’s De occulta philosophia featured a beautiful and moving version of the Ciaccona, played by lutenist José Miguel Moreno, with Emma Kirkby and countertenor Carlos Mena singing the hidden chorale quotations which provide both a cantus firmus for the instrumental variations and a liturgical framework that underscores the work’s ‘meaning’.

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This new ECM CD explores the same thesis, first proposed by Helga Thoene in 1994. In fact, Professor Thoene has detected hidden chorales and number symbolism in all the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, but this disc focuses solely on BWV 1004, which, she says, is concerned with ‘death and resurrection’. The partita’s five movements, superbly played by Christoph Poppen, alternate with the relevant chorale verses, sung by the Hilliard Ensemble. Finally, the Ciaccona is repeated, solo violin now joined by the voices. The sound seems oddly balanced here: the violin upfront, full of vitality and character, the voices recessed and blanched, an almost ghostly presence. Still, a fascinating experiment, though the booklet’s essays leave many questions unanswered. Graham Lock