Works by JS Bach, Matteis, Nogueira, Roman, Tartini, Vilsmayr, J Walsh and Westhoff
Rachel Podger (violin)
Channel Classics CCSSA44422 (CD/SACD) 67:48 mins
Whenever the question of the origins of Bach’s solo violin Sonatas and Partitas is raised, the names given above are often cited, yet few of us know what this music actually sounds like. While the supreme quality of Bach’s masterwork can hardly be in doubt, the complacent notion that everything that came before it was unquestionably of inferior quality has (with the exception of Biber’s unaccompanied violin music) never really been tested. Now we at last have the chance.
As a scene-setter, Rachel Podger opens with a new A minor transcription of the organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, by Chad Kelly, that sounds magnificent. Podger’s mesmerising playing reveals the disingenuousness of much period-instrument criticism, which in the violin’s case almost invariably focuses on the perceived ‘thinner’ sound and ‘lack’ of (continuous) vibrato. Yet the most striking aspects of Podger’s playing throughout this recital (compared to most 20th-century ‘golden-agers’), is her enhanced range of tone and articulation, her vastly more flexible use of dynamics and phrasing and her temporal suppleness.
To discover where Bach found inspiration for the dance movements of his partitas, look no further than Johann Joseph Vilsmayr and Johann Paul von Westhoff, whose shaping of phrases and implied counterpoint, achieved via subtle registral changes, sounds incredibly similar to Bach’s designs. Bach’s tendency towards inspired extemporisation in the Sonatas is clearly anticipated by Matteis Jr’s C minor Fantasia, while his exultant melodiousness in the Italian style owes much to Tartini’s solo sonatas. Podger plays every piece with an explorative sense of excited discovery, playfully pointing up the various correspondences with Bach’s matchless works.