By age 35 the recently-widowed J.S. Bach had mastered the art of orchestration and the playing of and writing for the keyboard instruments that helped put food on the table for his ever growing family. He played and wrote for the Church, he played gigs in local cafes, and all along he mastered the ins and outs of the violin, an instrument that he had played quite well since young.
For the violin he composed six solo pieces, three sonatas and three partitas, the first three formally-structured compositions within which the Baroque master continued to explore the art of counterpoint, no small feat for an instrument thus far used to play single-note melodies.
When it came to the partitas Bach cut loose and sort of re-imagined the Partita form, as simply a collection of tunes elevated to the status of concert music by virtue of craft and genius. Within the livelier framework of a suite of Baroque dances, Bach put to use the allemandes, courantes, gigues and sarabandes that both court and country had danced to, dressing them up in Baroque finery, and without fettering them or their player, adding technical intricacies that came to define the rules of violin playing for centuries to come.
And yet, throughout that music there is the composer’s emotional turmoil, something that we have been repeatedly told is not what the disciplined, church-going, sober, family man from Leipzig was all about, reflected now and then in the sudden harmonic forays the music takes. Musical lore has it that Bach’s grammatically incorrect “Sei solo”, meaning Sei (“you are”) solo (“alone”) which he attached to the score of the three violin sonatas and the three partitas, which in Italian should be Sei Soli (with the letter i at the end of the word) meaning six solos was meant to express Bach’s emotional state in a sort of code.
In the Inmaculata concert of Sunday November 24, three formidable violinists took turns playing the three partitas.
Jack Bogard opened the afternoon with an elegant rendition of the Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002, playing its four movements with dexterous agility and impeccable musicality .
The Japanese-American Mariko Shimasaki took on the iconic Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006 brilliantly delivering with a singing tone a technically flawless performance.
The stunningly talented Christina Nam brought the afternoon to a serene ending with her fierce commitment and emotionally charged interpretation of the Partita number 2, the longest in duration of the three and one chockfull of every imaginable technical complexity, ending with the monumental Chaconne, a test of endurance for even the most mature of violinists, and one that Yehudi Menuhin called “the greatest structure for solo violin that exists.”
The end of the concert was first followed by awed silence and then by grateful applause for Nam and her colleagues. As I stood up to applaud I did so for all three of these wonderful young musicians, thinking as well about the long ago departed but still spiritually alive Johann Sebastian Bach, the humble genius who gave us all this complex, joyful, sorrowful, tuneful, mind-boggling, astonishing music.
Immaculata Chamber Music Series continues in 2020. Follow them on Facebook.
Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com