Notes and Editorial Reviews
Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas
Ruth Waterman (vn)
MERIDIAN 84595/6 (2 CDs: 152:03)
Ruth Waterman’s extensive booklet notes to Meridian’s release of Johann Sebastian Bach’s works for solo violin suggest that she’s devoted a great deal of thought to her performances. And the readings themselves display the results of her efforts. In the First Sonata’s Adagio, for example, she allows the rhythms to slip and slide between fixed chordal posts, an effect that fits with the period’s free preluding style.
Her articulation in the ensuing Fuga produces an unsuspected elegance in the subject’s initial appearance, as well as some arch pointing that may challenge some listeners. Her tone remains for the most part strong enough to achieve the majestic manner for which she seems to be striving, although it occasionally falters in climactic passages. She brings easy grace to the Siciliana and virtuosic flair to the Presto’s kaleidoscopic rhythmic patterns.
In the First Partita, Waterman may hold to the tempo she’s established in the Allemande, but she nuances its rhythms in a way both highly individual and devoid of mannerism. Her Double proceeds somewhat deliberately but with a lightness and springiness that allows it to steer clear of monotony and brings it to a slyly understated conclusion. She allows listeners to hear the interplay of voices implied in the Corrente and makes greater sense of its perpetual-motion Double than do hell-bent-for-leather performances like that of Ruggiero Ricci, yet she’s also impressive in this violinistic showpiece. Still, she seems to speak in her own voice most successfully and most movingly in such movements like the Sarabande, into the repeats of which she introduces her own ornamentation and in which she realizes a personal stylized poignancy; she saves—if only barely—the Double’s rather sedate tempo from becoming downright elephantine by decreasing its weight to the point at which it seems more plaintive than plodding. Arch articulation returns in the Bourée and Double, into the former of which she inserts occasional rapid notes to make the rhythm skip along in an ever more sprightly way.
While the Grave of the Second Sonata may sound introspective in her reading, in the Fuga she mixes technical command with quirkiness in delivering its thematic material that threads through its combinations and recombinations. Into the repeats of the Andante she again inserts ornamentation, which she identifies as deriving in part from the keyboard version and in part her own. She’s boffo in the extroverted Allegro.
The Allemanda of the Second Partita sounds nuanced but not chopped into snippets. She blends piquancy and wit in the Corrente and again introduces ornamentation into the Sarabande’s repetitions. The Giga strikes sparks. Her pacing in the Chaconne produces what seems a moderate 14:16 compared to Heifetz’s much faster timings and Szigeti’s much slower ones; but that moderate timing spans a sharply pointed, rapid delivery of the theme and the first few variations’ lightning-rapid notes (no slow dance, this) that may just place this performance outside many listeners’ experience. She mentions that she holds to the figuration Bach gives as a suggestion at the beginning of the arpeggios throughout the entire section, and the effect is overwhelming, especially as she explores so wide a dynamic range. In the central D-Major section, she changes gears for a more reflective exposition. In her notes she refers to what she considers the almost jarring return to D Minor, although in her performance, listeners may not feel so strong a jolt. So much, in any case, for violinist Ida Haendel’s recommendation that the Chaconne be as steady as a heartbeat. Nevertheless, Waterman is consistently fascinating and, at times, revelatory.
In the Third Sonata’s Fuga, Waterman doesn’t break the opening Adagio’s chords so aggressively as do many violinists, perhaps in keeping with her suggestion that the movement suggests despair. And according to her notion about the Fuga’s subject breaking in two, with the first note nearly separate from the rest, she places a marked articulation after it. Her tempo is so sedate, however, that many will feel that despite attention to detail and her cornucopia of imaginative ideas, she loses the thread of Bach’s complex argument. And she breaks up the Largo’s melodic flow more than many readers might expect from her assertion that the movement resembles a sort of celestial outpouring. Her reading of the Allegro assai may sound too heavy to some for the angelic dancing to which she likens the movement, though she plays solidly and creates interest by varying the articulation.
The Third Partita’s Preludio has often been played as an independent item. Waterman reveals the iridescent variety of the movement’s frequently varied across-the-strings patterns, and she gives its ending a tangy abruptness. She tells readers that she used to play the Loure slowly, but she doesn’t do so here; in fact, she recalls Isabelle Faust (Harmonia Mundi 902059,
34:2). The Gavotte en Rondeau has also served as a stand-alone number, yet Waterman makes it seem fresh with her wide dynamic range and her full palette of articulations, and a few notes here and there speed it along. Her reading of the Menuet I will also sound fresh and improvisatory to listeners (I’ve heard these minuets simply dragged along on the way to the final two movements), although the Menuet II seems to offer a small patch of spotty intonation. The last two movements combine crispness and strength. The recorded sound of these performances, made, according to the information on the back of the jewel case, from 2000 to 2003, now and then approaches Waterman closely enough to capture some breathing, though it’s hardly distracting.
While Waterman may not display in these works the aristocratic manner and the strong personalization of Nathan Milstein’s later set, the homogeneous purity that characterizes Arthur Grumiaux’s approach to works from the Baroque period in general, or the intellectual liveliness of Gidon Kremer’s, she nevertheless offers an individual and consistently thoughtful reading of these bedrock works (albeit a rather slow one overall, with the 152:03 I timed extending well beyond the 138:16 listed on the jewel case) that should provide food for thought even to those familiar with many different performers, conceptions, and performances. Definitely recommended, not least for its variety and depth.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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