The King’s Place Bach Unwrapped series showed off violin gems last night. Rachel Podger performed Bach’s (1685-1750) Sonata no. 1 in G minor and Partita no. 1 in B minor, and with Marcin Świątkiewicz played Sonata no. 4 in C minor and Sonata no.1 in B minor for violin and harpsichord. We were also treated to an extra titbit of the Cantabile from Bach’s Sonata no. 6 for violin and obbligato harpsichord which beautifully rounded off the concert.
Bach started writing his sonatas and partitas for solo violin in the 1700s and probably completed them by about 1720 (the date on his autographed copy). The sonatas are in the style of an Italian sonata da chiesa with the first two movements paired together as a prelude and fugue, followed by a slow movement, in this case a Siciliana, and a final fast movement. In contrast the partitas are sets of French dances interspersed with Doubles, which provide a variation on the movement before.
While some details of the original dynamics and phrasings remain, there is plenty of scope for individualism and, when faced with playing three or four notes simultaneously either as part of a chord, or simply because there are four parts to play, the soloist must decide how best to achieve the effect Bach was striving for.
I was first introduced to Rachel’s refreshing interpretation of Bach when I heard her recording of all six of the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. Since then I have been waiting for a chance to hear her play live – and I was not disappointed. From the moment she walked alone on stage she captivated our attention and her virtuoso rendition of the first sonata filled the hall. The first sonata ended at breakneck speed leaving the audience breathless, and the haunting Sarabande was balanced against the previous fiendish Double. The partita sparkled to its last note.
This is Bach stripped down to the basics and a searching beyond the obvious to find the heart behind the mathematics. In an interview for the Kings Place Rachel describes how she uses both singing and dance to “transform anything sluggish or unclear into something meaningful.” Both Rachel and Marcin have clearly thought hard about what they are playing and were attuned to each other, bringing out little passages here and there and using a great deal of changes of tempo, volume and tone to generate a vocal-like, singing style.
During the duets it was sometimes hard to distinguish between the instruments as the violin provided another line or two sympathetically interwoven into the harpsichord line. At other times the violin was brought forward, supported by the harpsichord, and at other times receded into accompaniment or obbligato.
Each movement had its own style and quirk. The largo of Sonata no.4 was a plaintive, singing dance, introducing an allegro where first the violin led then the harpsichord. The second movement of Sonata no. 1 also had a dance section and the violin felt like it was the extra hand on the keyboard. Like the solo pieces each of the duets concluded with a fast exhibitionist opportunity which was not missed.
Rachel Podger is an honorary member of the Royal Academy of music (Michaela Comberti Chair for Baroque Violin) and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (Jane Hodge Foundation International Chair in Baroque Violin) and is a visiting Professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music. She has won many awards for her recording of baroque and classical music including the 2012 Diapason d’Or de l’année for a recording of LA Cetra Vivaldi concertos.
Marcin Świątkiewicz is currently a student at the Academy of Music in Katowice but also performs and records internationally.
Last night was the first in a series of three concerts throughout the year and I cannot recommend it highly enough.Elsewhere on this blog:
review by Hilary Glover
- Well-Tempered Clavier volume 1
- Review: Londinium - Britten in America
- Review: Dream of Gerontius with Mark Elder
- Review: choir of Clare College, Cambridge
- Instructions for the Audience
- Review: Laika the Spacedog
- Release of Roxanna Panufnik's Love Abide
- Fretwork and Alamire at Kings Place
- Arcangelo - Enchanted Forest at Wigmore Hall
- Review of Matthew Barley's Around Britten