Sigiswald Kuijken – solo violin
Tuesday 18 July 2017, 7:00pm, St Mary’s of the Angels, Wellington
Presented by Chamber Music New Zealand
A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs
Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001 – J S Bach (1685-1750)
Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 100 6 – J S Bach (1685-1750)
Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004 – J S Bach (1685-1750)
The short story (tldr):
It was a privilege to hear Sigiswald Kuijken perform these solo violin works and the ambience of St Mary of the Angels was perfect for this concert. It was an Herculean task, a mammoth undertaking. It was not perfect performance, but the intonation problems were trifling compared to the achievement of playing the majesty and magic of J S Bach’s violin inventions.
The long story:
St Mary of the Angels’ ambience was perfect. After four years of earthquake-proof renovation this was the first staged concert. When Chief Executive Officer of Chamber Music New Zealand Peter Walls spoke, I feared the acoustic was too resonant but actually it was ideal for a solo violin performance.
J S Bach’s violin Sonatas and Partitas established the technical capability of the violin as a solo instrument. The programme notes informed me of a particular style – the stylus phantasticus, ‘a style of instrumental composition conceived to display genius and to teach the hidden design of harmony and the ingenious composition of harmonic phrases’. These three pieces demonstrated that style admirably.
It was a privilege to hear Sigiswald Kuijken perform these solo violin works – a master of the Baroque Violin. His agility and dexterity with both hands – bow strokes and fingering – was wonderful. His rolled chords; his double and triple stops; his rapid bowing; dynamic control; the choices of legato, staccato, slurred phrases … was quite impressive. It was an Herculean task, a mammoth undertaking.
The violin’s E and A strings were amiable and brilliant – the D and G strings were more resonant and dark-toned. That gave rise to one of the important aspects of Bach’s writing – polyphonic texture. In most of the movements, there were two, three or four distinct voices in the musical texture – and the string’s subtle tonal difference highlighted that fact.
Rather than be exhausted, the programme seems to revitalise Sigiswald. Each piece, each movement, surpassed the one before. In the Sonata No. 1, the Fuga demonstrated the polyphonic nature of the separate melodic lines. Each voice was clearly defined. The Loure in the Partita No.3 was heartfelt with long, lyrical lines and the Gavotte, Rondeau and the Menuets had ample grace and elegance.
After a 10 minute interval, the Partita No. 2 was a much darker composition – longer lines and introspective qualities in the Allemanda and the Sarabanda. The Gigue was a rapid cascade of notes that were breathless and seemingly effortless.
But it seems like everything that went before was a prelude, a precursor, of the last movement of the concert – the Ciaccona. In the programme notes is described as ‘sixty-four variations on a four-bar theme’ but that doesn’t express the stunning, overpowering effect of this music. Sublime, consummate, transcendent! Many of the audience stood for the applause.
It was not perfect performance, but the bow graunches and intonation problems were forgivable and trifling compared to the achievement of playing the majesty and magic of J S Bach’s violin inventions.