Monday 16 December 2019

An intriguing journey: with Soledad, baroque violinist Jorge Jimenez takes us from Biber's intense Catholicism, through Bach to the vibrancy of Spanish baroque

Soledad - Jorge Jimenez
Soledad - Biber, Bach, Lorca, Scarlatti; Jorge Jimenez
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 December 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Baroque violinist takes us on an intriguing journey from the Catholic intensity of Biber, through Lutheran Bach to vibrant Baroque Spain

The Spanish violinist Jorge Jimenez might be a name known to British listeners as his Baroque violin playing some times pops up with period instrument groups in the UK (he was recently performing Beethoven with the Hanover Band). Jimenez has released a new disc Soledad on his own label, which is available on CD, as a download or via a limited edition vinyl. The word Soledad means loneliness in Spanish, though Jimenez disc does not give much away as to how we might apply this to the music. Perhaps it refers to the loneliness of the violinist, playing music unaccompanied, or perhaps to the feelings engendered by the music on the disc, much of it soulful and melancholy.

The programme takes us on an intriguing journey from Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, through Johann Sebastian Bach to Domenico Scarlatti, via Federico Garcia Lorca. Not all the music was originally for solo violin, but then again much Baroque music existed and can exist in multiple versions. Jimenez' programme includes an organ work by JS Bach, which may not be by Bach and may not originally have been written for organ!
We start with Biber's Passacaglia, the final of his Mystery Sonatas; unlike many of the sonatas this final movement uses no scordatura. The bass-line may in fact be a reference to a pre-existing hymn, and in Jimenez' sequence it makes a starting point for a fascinating journey. He plays with fine, straight tone and is impressive in the double stopping, at times making us almost believe there are two players. Whilst the piece does build quite a head of steam, it is ultimately a rather thoughtful, intimate reading. And leads nicely to an arrangement of the chorale 'O grosse Lieb' from Bach's St John Passion.  Jimenez creates the same atmosphere in both pieces,  and the Bach leads nicely to a sequence from Bach's Violin Sonata no. 2 in G minor.

The sonata has four movements, with the second being a fugue, but Jimenez does not play that, instead he replaces it with a solo violin version of the Toccata & Fugue BWV 565. This is a piece which rather exercises commentators, many are not sure whether it is by Bach or not, though no-one has come up with a really convincing replacement. And many are pretty sure that the organ version is an expansion of a work originally for solo violin, and that is what Jimenez gives us.

First there is the Adagio from the sonata, full of striking rhetoric and thoughtful intensity, and then the Toccata and Fugue. This is really convincing in its solo violin version, and Jimenez again brings out the rhetoric of the Toccata, with a nice combination of virtuosity and thoughtfulness in the fugue. We then return to the for the Andante and Presto. For the first of these, Jimenez uses a mixture of pizzicato and arco, with the pizzicato passages moving our attention away from Bach's harmonies to the sheer texture of the music. The Presto is admirably up-tempo and rather impressive.

Another Bach chorale follows, an arrangement of 'Dein Will gescheh, Herr Gott, zugleich' from the St John Passion. And again, Jimenez use of pizzicato focuses attention on the texture of the piece, contrasting with the rich full sound of his double stopping in the arco passages.

The emphasis on chorales as linkages makes a very striking thread running through these pieces, and Jimenez then picks up on this in a strikingly unusual way, performing Tres morillas, as Spanish folk-song which was performed and recorded by the Spanish poet and playwright (and much else) Federico Garcia Lorca. This provides a bridge to an arrangement of Domenico Scarlatti's Fandango (originally for keyboard, and which may not be by Scarlatti it seems). Here Jimenez really brings out the Spanish element, digging in deep with his bow and playing with a sense of brilliant bravura. There is one final piece, another thoughtful Spanish popular song, Nana de Sevilla, full of yearning melancholy.

On paper this might seem a slightly unusual journey, but Jimenez makes a strong case with his strongly projected and finely intense playing, bringing out the emotional links between the works.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber - Passacaglia
Johann Sebastian Bach - Chorale: O grosse Lieb (St John Passion)
Johann Sebastian Bach - Adagio (Violin Sonata No. 2, BWV 1003)
Johann Sebastian Bach - Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565
Johann Sebastian Bach - Andante & Presto (Violin Sonata No. 2, BWV 1003)
Federico Garcia Lorca - Tres Morillas
Domenico Scarlatti - Fandango
Federico Garcia Lorca - Nana de Seville
Jorge Jimenez (baroque violin)
Available from Jorge Jimenez' website, or on iTunes or on Spotify.

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