“Bach & Beyond Part 3” = BACH: Sonata No. 2 in a, BWV 1003; Sonata No. 3 in C, BWV 1005; BERIO: Sequenza VIII; HARBISON: For Violin Alone – Jennifer Koh, violin – Cedille CDR 90000 199 (2 discs), 86:23 *****:
With these two Bach sonatas for solo violin, Jennifer Koh concludes her three-part series pairing the Bach unaccompanied violin pieces with contemporary violin works also in the solo manner. Her final Bach is the magnificent C major sonata, which to my mind has the single most astounding composition in the entire series of six sonatas and partitas, the incredible second movement ten-minute fuga. Koh is not only a phenomenal virtuoso—really few in the world can match her—but one of radiant intelligence and innate understanding of every piece she attempts. Her Bach is a combination of emotion, clarity, cleanness, warm enough to embrace the affections of her instrument, and intense enough to show the composer’s unmatched sense of melodic and dramatic effect.
The couplings could hardly be more different. John Harbison’s For Violin Alone was composed for Koh in 2019 and has a close affinity to the Bach Partitas. The seven movements are similar to a baroque dance suite, though Harbison is more deliberate in his intensions and formal in his parody. The movements are all quite touching in their variety and highly ingratiating to the violin.
Luciano Berio embarked on a series of fourteen sequenzas for solo instruments (including voice), and no. 8 is for violin. Almost all call for extended techniques, sometimes wonderfully idiomatic, sometimes, quite frankly, rather irritating, especially among the wind pieces. A few were developed further into larger compositions, this violin work becoming Corale. Berio is never hesitant to delve into regions where most violinists would prefer not to go, and few of the “big names” avoid works like this like the plague. Fortunately, Jennifer Koh refuses intimidation and this incandescent performance places Berio’s avant-garde inclinations into a firmly historical, and necessarily acceptable, category of listening.
I can’t think of a better way to end this remarkable three-disc effort, recommended to all with a good degree of urgency.
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