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“Bach & Beyond, Part 2” = BACH: Sonata No. 1 in g, BWV 1001; Partita No. 1 in b, BWV 1002; BARTOK: Solo Violin Sonata, Sz. 117; SAARIAHO: Frises – Jennifer Koh, v. – Cedille

This second installment is every bit as engrossing as the first!

“Bach & Beyond, Part 2” = BACH: Sonata No. 1 in g, BWV 1001; Partita No. 1 in b, BWV 1002; BARTOK: Solo Violin Sonata, Sz. 117; SAARIAHO: Frises – Jennifer Koh, v. – Cedille CDR 90000 154 (2 discs), 91:18 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

I still remember Jennifer Koh’s first recordings years ago—she was being hyped as one of the finest young virtuosos ever to hit the scene, and though it took a while for her to become well known—largely because the recording industry was in transition—she has now entrenched herself among the finest players in the world, and Cedille is lucky to have her in the stable at the moment.

Koh is one of the most passionate players I have ever heard, but her playing is never—repeat, never—out of control. No matter how emotive any particular moment happens to be, the unflagging technical perfection and perfect intonation remains intact. This makes her Bach particularly interesting, as I can only describe it as a combination of Grumiaux’s elegance, Szeryng’s technical finesse, and Joshua Bell’s passion. If I still prefer Lara St. John’s more unbuttoned approach to this music in general, Koh is easily as gripping in her own regard.

This is the second volume in her projected three-volume set covering all of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas coupled with modern important violin pieces as companions. This, her tenth recording for Cedille, presents us with one of Bartok’s best works in any genre, the Solo Violin Sonata. Composed after hearing Yehudi Menuhin play Bach’s Third Sonata, the work is a ghostly haunt of Bach’s Chaconne from the D-minor Partita, and offers a melodic expressiveness found in the Third Piano Concerto composed the next year.

Also included is Kaija Saariaho’s Frises, another piece that nods to the Chaconne, and in fact was composed to be performed directly after it. Saariaho’s work, as in so many of her other pieces retains a fascination for the inherent and projected colors of an instrument or ensemble, and here she adds the world of electronic manipulation to the instrument to make her points. The result is a piece not only exploring sound and timbre, but a reasoned and manipulative probe of the emotive elements present in pre-existing forms. This is her first extended work for violin and electronics.

Koh is phenomenal in this program, a painless way of giving us superb Bach, and expanding our horizons too. Sound is great, and I can’t wait for the concluding volume.

—Steven Ritter

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