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Tamás Fejes (violin)

Sonata No 1 in G minor BWM1001 (i) Adagio
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 1 in G minor BWM1001 (ii) Fuga (allegro)
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 1 in G minor BWM1001 (iii) Siciliana
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 1 in G minor BWM1001 (iv) Presto
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 1 in B minor BWV 1002 (i) Allemanda
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 1 in B minor BWV 1002 (ii) Double
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 1 in B minor BWV 1002 (iii) Corrente
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 1 in B minor BWV 1002 (iv) Double (presto)
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 1 in B minor BWV 1002 (v) Sarabande
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 1 in B minor BWV 1002 (vi) Double
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 1 in B minor BWV 1002 (vii) Tempo di Borea
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 1 in B minor BWV 1002 (viii) Double
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 2 in A minor BWV1003 (i) Grave
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 2 in A minor BWV1003 (ii) Fuga
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 2 in A minor BWV1003 (iii) Andante
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 2 in A minor BWV1003 (iv) Allegro
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 2 in D minor BWV1004 (i) Allemanda
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 2 in D minor BWV1004 (ii) Corrente
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 2 in D minor BWV1004 (iii) Sarabanda
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 2 in D minor BWV1004 (iv) Giga
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 2 in D minor BWV1004 (v) Ciaccona
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 2 in C Major BWV1005 (i) Adagio
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 2 in C Major BWV1005 (ii) Fuga
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 2 in C Major BWV1005 (iii) Largo
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Sonata No 2 in C Major BWV1005 (iv) Allegro assai
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 3 in E Major BWV1006 (i) Preludio
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 3 in E Major BWV1006 (ii) Loure
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 3 in E Major BWV1006 (iii) Gavotte en Rondeau
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 3 in E Major BWV1006 (iv) Menuet
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 3 in E Major BWV1006 (v) Bouree
Bach, Johann Sebastian
Partita No 3 in E Major BWV1006 (vi) Gigue
Bach, Johann Sebastian


Tamás Fejes violin

Johann Sebastian Bach

Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin

Sonata No 1 in G minor, BWV 1001
Partita No 1 in B minor, BWV 1002
Sonata No 2 in A minor, BWV 1003
Partita No 2 in D minor, BWV 1004
Sonata No 3 in C Major, BWV 1005
Partita No 3 in E Major, BWV 1006


Reviews to follow

Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin

It is possible that J.S. Bach began work on his set of six solo violin sonatas and partitas, Sei Solo – a violino senza Basso accompagnato, BWV 1001-1006, as early as 1703, while still in Weimar. He is likely to have been inspired by Johann Paul von Westhoff’s publication of solo violin partitas in 1696 – the first volume of its kind. This idea is further supported by the fact that Westhoff played at the Weimar court until his death in 1705, so the two musicians are likely to have met.

The Sei Solo were completed in 1720, by which time Bach had moved to Cöthen and his first wife, Maria Barbara Bach, had died (she was buried on 7 July, 1720). It is possible that Bach wrote at least some of his violin music as a tribute to Maria. However, it was Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, who would go on to prepare fair copies of many of his works, including BWV 1001-6. Intriguingly, the use of notation in Bach’s solo violin works is more fluid than that most usually employed in his keyboard works, at times representing an ideal of performance rather than a literal expectation. This suggests a new, more impressionistic approach to the role of the score in music-making, allowing for a degree of interpretive flexibility. It may also have been a response to the fact that the violin is not a conventionally contrapuntal instrument in the manner of the keyboard, yet is used in these works to imply interweaving lines even during moments when this is not strictly possible, necessitating a new approach to notation.

The sense that Bach was challenging himself in these sonatas and partitas is palpable throughout the set. The sonatas in particular exhibit a sense of struggle, of striving to work through a puzzle, reaching a solution using an internal musical logic, yet with a profound emotional undercurrent. It is uncertain how accomplished a violinist Bach himself was, although he would sometimes have led orchestras from the violin rather than from the keyboard. One of his sons, C.P.E. Bach, described his father’s violin tone as ‘pure and penetrating’ – a double-edged compliment, perhaps, but certainly one which supports the idea of Bach successfully leading an ensemble using a clear and forthright violin sound.

The Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001, features a four-part Fugue remarkable for its exhilarating range of characters. It was later transcribed to become an organ Fugue, the second part of BWV 539. One might expect the texture to be materially enriched in an arrangement for keyboard, but it is a demonstration of Bach’s great skill in writing rich and idiomatic music for the violin, which plays three and four-part chords throughout the movement, that the two versions are essentially the same music performed on different instruments.

The Sonata No.1 opens with a highly decorated Adagio which unfolds in the manner of a mournful soliloquy, imbued with a recitative-like sense of rhythmic fluidity. Bach swiftly moves the music away from the tonic key, taking the material on a journey through a series of expressive harmonic excursions. The Fugue which follows is a taut, sinewy movement in which the theme remains audible at every turn. The theme itself is characterised by an insistent, repeated figure, the quality of which shifts at various points in the movement to sound plaintive and delicate one moment, or persistent and forceful the next.

The Siciliano (a dance style which originated in Sicily) represents the only dance movement to be included in Bach’s solo violin sonatas, and is another of the composer’s triumphs of instrumental counterpoint, in which the violin sustains a three-part texture. Yet the Siciliano wears its technical prowess lightly, and the effect is a movement of spacious, unhurried beauty, balancing its pastoral tone with a pulsating rhythmic drive. The final movement is a brilliant, breathless Presto, full of intricate semiquavers and virtuosic flourishes.

On the surface, the Partita No.1, BWV 1002, gives the impression of being the most uncomplicated and reserved of the three. Each of its four standard suite movements has its own ‘Double’, a variation of the original. The first movement is an Allemande characterised by disjunct lines and wide leaps, followed by a simpler Double in which the work’s hidden depths begin to emerge, in music tinged with a wistful, bittersweet quality. This tone is temporarily brushed away by the breezy Corrente and its Double, followed by the movement at the heart of the Partita, the noble and elegant Sarabande. In the final movement, the Bourrée, Bach makes extensive use of sequences to create a sense of forward-motion.

The Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003 is the third work of the set, and opens with an improvisatory Grave replete with multiple-stopping which enriches the melodic line with harmonic support. At such a slow tempo, the highly ornamented melody seems to meander at will, navigating a course of highly contrasting rhythms and decorative flourishes that release the melodic potential of the minor mode.

The Fugue which immediately follows is based around a neat theme which is developed using an array of imaginative techniques, including passages of semiquavers and more multiple-stopping. This is a fine instance of Bach using this single instrument to create the effect of several interwoven lines of counterpoint. In the Andante, which is in the contrasting key of C major, there are also clearly demarcated roles for the melodic and harmonic aspects of the violin’s material; the beautiful melody is accompanied by a continuously moving and highly rhythmic bass-line. In the dramatic final Allegro, in binary form, multiple-stopping is replaced with broken chords punctuating the melodic line in perpetual motion.

The Partita No.2 is the most famous of Bach’s solo violin partitas, and indeed one of the most accomplished works he ever wrote, on account of the monumental final Chaconne (Ciaccona), which is longer than the rest of the work put together. A chaconne is a type of ever-extendable variation form, comprising short units, each of which usually ends with a cadence before moving immediately onto the next. During Bach’s lifetime there were several national chaconne styles across Europe, beginning in Spain and Italy and extending to Germany, France and England. A hybrid style of chaconne combines aspects of these different traditions, and it was the hybrid form that Bach adopted – and pushed to its limits – in this work. The impact of this Chaconne has been far reaching. In the 19th century, Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann:

On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.

On composing his epic Sequenza VIII (1976) for solo violin, Luciano Berio wrote that his piece became, ‘inevitably, a homage to that high-point of music, the Chaconne of the Partita in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, in which violin techniques of the past, present and future coexist.’ At first, the Partita No.2 seems to be structured in the same manner as other Baroque suites, starting with a clean, almost austere Allemande. For this opening movement, along with the more animated Corrente and elegant Gigue, Bach omits multiple-stopping; amid these movements, the rich chords and aching, lamenting lines of the Sarabande stand out.

Then comes the vast Chaconne, formed of 64 variations. Two minor-key outer sections frame a major-key central interlude, into which structure Bach weaves the full spectrum of violin techniques then available. The recurrent motif of Bach’s Chaconne is beguilingly straightforward: at its most basic it can be summarised as a descending unit, D–C– B-flat–A. Yet Bach’s elaboration of this deceptively simple framework took solo violin writing to new realms of virtuosity: from widely-spaced arpeggiando chords, to intricate, quicksilver passagework, demanding enormous dexterity from the soloist. Perhaps all the more extraordinary is that this complexity amounts to much more than a dazzling display of technique: at the heart of Bach’s Chaconne is an intense, desolate, at times devastating, emotional language.

The Sonata No.3, BWV 1005, is the last of the sonatas in the Sei Solo – a violino senza Basso accompagnato, and includes a Fugue of such magnitude that it has drawn comparisons with the Chaconne which ends the Partita No.2. Composed in intricate layers, this Fugue is derived from an antiphon for Pentecost, Veni Sancte Spiritus. The work opens with a profoundly contemplative Adagio, which ranges from one to four-part writing, and which is anchored by double-stopping placed at regular intervals throughout the movement. Its slow stacking-up of notes is a technique once considered impossible on bowed instruments.

The open-ended Adagio resolves with the vast Fugue that follows, a masterpiece of overlapping lines built into a great edifice of enmeshed musical ideas lasting more than ten minutes – an extraordinary achievement on a solo instrument. Indeed, at 354 bars, the fugue is Bach’s longest for any instrument or combination. Bach was, of course, a master of contrapuntal ingenuity, using these techniques to build large-scale and powerful works in a range of genres, but there is something particularly fascinating about hearing these processes in a more exposed context, and achieved using not a keyboard instrument, ensemble or choir, but a single violin.


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