Bach & Beyond, Part 3
JS Bach: Solo Violin Sonatas Nos 2 & 3, BWV 1003 & 1005; Berio: Sequenza VIII for Solo Violin;
John Harbison: For Violin Alone
Jennifer Koh (violin)
Cédille CDR 90000 199 86:23 mins (2 discs)
Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas are the prime progenitors of later works for solo violin, and there’s a growing tradition for performers to programme them with contemporary pieces. For the final part of her series, Jennifer Koh opens with Bach’s Second Sonata, and the musing character of the opening Grave is effective and affecting from the first notes, with beautiful, varied tone and fluid vibrato. By contrast, the ensuing Fuga presses forward with unerring momentum, and the contrapuntal lines are inflected with individuality in dynamics and phrasing. The Andante has a relentless tread in its repeated quavers, and the moto perpetuo of the final Allegro dances at a fine lick.
Its a similar story of the marriage between technical certainty and musical imagination in the Third Sonata, where the long Fuga is even more impressive in its control, and the two slow movements – the first with its gently rocking dotted rhythm, and the second with its long cantabile line – are played with an impeccable sense of style.
Berio’s Sequenza VIII is a single span which exploits an even greater range of techniques than Bach, where Koh isn’t afraid to produce some ugly sounds: the opening grinding dissonances, and some double stops later on, punctuating a wild whirling of notes, before the gently contemplative ending. Harbison’s For Violin Alone, a suite of six short movements and an epilogue, is a more approachable work, written for Koh, who gives it an involved performance: not as memorable as Bach, or even Berio though.