Harold C. Schoenberg, former Classical Music Critic for the New York Times entitled his chapter on Bach in his monumental Lives of the Great Composers, “Transfiguration of the Baroque.” While closely associated with the Baroque period of music, he nevertheless did not create it. Bach’s influence in the Baroque period was predated by Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schutz in the early period (1600 – 1650) and Archangelo Corelli, Henry Purcell, and Antonio Vivaldi in the Middle Period (1650 – 1700).
Bach shared the late Baroque Period with two almost perfect chronological contemporaries, Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757) and George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759). All three perfected the baroque musical aesthetic, but it was Bach that attempted to systematize Baroque musical thought, most particularly with his Das Wohltemperierte Clavier (Well Tempered Clavier, BWV 846–893), Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 1001–1006), and his instrumentally ambiguous magnum opus, Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080).
Much has been written regarding the age which a modern performer records a given piece of classical music. Regarding Bach’s monolithic Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, BWV 1007-1012) many cellists choose to first record these later in their careers, examples being the master Pablo Casals(age 63) Pierre Fournier (age 55), and Mstislav Rostropovich (age 68) and the performances benefit from this. This results in introspective and extremely thoughtful performances, each mentioned deserving a listen. I do not necessarily think that the same circumstances exist for Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 1001–1006). Experienced young performers are more than capable of bringing a spark and freshness to these pieces that is often dampened by studied age and experience.
Bringing us presently to Canadian violinist Lara St. John. In a stroke of artistic and marketing genius, St. John released Bach: Works for Violin Solo in 1996. At age 25, the youthful St. John debuted on this recording with two Bach solo violin pieces, the Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004 and Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005. The results were quite remarkable and well-received by critics internationally. The recording was released by Well-Tempered Productions and recorded with 24-bit technology, providing the performance with a paradoxical crispness and warmth often difficult to achieve with capturing the violin’s complex tone palette.
The choice of the Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004 and Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005 has a creative symmetry similar to the center of the Bible bisecting Psalm 103: 1-2: “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…” The two pieces bisect what is Bach’s Canon on solo violin. The pieces provide St. John ample material with which to demonstrate her youthful command and informed insight into Bach performance. The Partita No. 2 Allemanda is full of dense pathos without being brittle and inaccessible. The Giga dances like the flight of birds, elegantly and with precision.
St. John saves her best playing for the Sonata No. 3, particularly in the Adagio/Fuga sections where her double stops are heart-rending, full-bodied and passionate. The Fuga is the pinnacle of refinement. St. John’s single note articulation is rarified. Bach: Works for Solo Violin, Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004, Sonata No. 3. in C Major, BWV 1005 is a great Bach violin sampler that should make the listener look forward to St. John’s recording for the complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 1001–1006).
Visit Lara St. John on the Internet.
Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004: Allemanda; Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004: Corrente; Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004: Sarabanda; Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004: Giga; Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004: Ciaccona; Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005: Adagio – Fuga; Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005: Largo; Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005: Allegro Assai.
Lara St. John: Violin (1779 “Salabue” Guadagnini).
This review was first published in Blogcritics.org
© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007