Notes and Editorial Reviews
Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas.
Solo Violin Sonata
Amandine Breyer (vn) (period instruments)
ZIG-ZAG 110902 (2 CDs: 151: 34)
Amandine Breyer plays her version of Johann Sebastian Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas on a Baroque violin made by Pierre Jaquier, but the tone she draws from it—and Zig-Zag’s recorded sound—together reflect a more modern sound: Her tone remains consistently moist rather than dry, and her articulation,
though crisp, never sounds as though she knocked the starch into the bath water. Perhaps in order to fit Johann Georg Pisendel’s solo sonata into the program, Breyer has begun her recital with Bach’s First Partita, the first movement of which she plays with a pointed articulation that’s at the same time lively and rhythmic. The Corrente may sound sweetly elegant in her reading, but its double rushes in a Ruggiero-Ricci-like torrent of notes—all, to her credit, under her control. The Sarabande, like the Corrente, seems lyrical rather than abrasive; Breyer rolls chords, although quickly, without the snap and accent on an initial double-stop and thereby enhances the melodic flow. The effect isn’t so macho as that of, say, Nathan Milstein, but it nevertheless possesses plenty of strength. She makes the Tempo di Borea playful rather than declamatory, partly through the same manner of breaking chords and partly through expressive dynamic control (in evidence throughout the set).
Because of the order Breyer has chosen, the first sonata to appear turns out to be the Second. In the opening Grave, she follows a similar regimen of breaking chords lightly and thereby leading the voices more obviously over their sinuous courses. However intelligently and lambently she might lead those voices (and she does both) in the Fuga, however, she leads them so slowly that many listeners might be disinclined to follow. The succeeding Andante also proceeds at a tempo that some might consider leaden, while the finale moves along if not fleetly, yet with exhilarating rhythmic buoyancy.
Breyer dices the lines of the Second Partita’s opening Allemanda into short fragments, which she accentuates rather heavily in order to emphasize her intentions—somewhat in the manner of Carl Flesch’s suggestions in the second volume of his monumental treatise on violin playing. She allows the Corrente to run free, however, far outstripping academicism. An occasional and discreet ornament helps Breyer to keep the Sarabande, which she takes rather slowly, from becoming immobile. As in the finale of the Second Sonata, that of the Second Partita, like it in its regular motion in 16th notes, Breyer enlivens the music with nuance and articulation rather than with cranked-up tempos. She traverses the entire Chaconne, however, in 12:50, recalling Jascha Heifetz rather than Joseph Szigeti. From the beginning, she sets the seal of her individuality on the performance, with lots of breathing space between the theme’s chords. In double-stops of succeeding variations, Breyer may temporarily if infrequently lose control of intonation, but she plays the rapid passagework and the arpeggiated variations with virtuosic aplomb and builds the whole to a magnificently logical conclusion.
The program continues on the second CD with the Third Sonata, in the opening Adagio of which Breyer creates a heavier, more solemn impression, applying greater tonal weight to her playing of its chords. The Fuga, as do so many other movements, maintains momentum at what might objectively be a slower tempo than it seems because of her expressive articulation. Some listeners, however, may find her approach a bit too mannered to sustain through such a long movement. Her reading of the Largo also relies on articulation in a way that may grow to seem fussy. The final Allegro assai has often been played as an encore, and Breyer, perhaps while not intending to do so, demonstrates in her fluent reading (which manages to remain rhythmically coherent at its speed) just why it would be effective in that role. The First Sonata comes after the Third, with a flowing reading of the first movement, a performance of the Fuga that packs great authority into its brief theme, a Siciliana that actually dances with sharpened articulation, and a breakneck finale that nevertheless preserves all of Bach’s metric complexity. Finally, the last of the partitas appears, with a first movement that betrays only an occasional and fleeting lapse of the violinist’s bow control in an otherwise bracing reading, a piquant version of the Loure taken at a rapid clip and with subtle articulation that together prevent any sense of lethargy from overwhelming it, a cocky Gavotte en Rondeau (again with tantalizing but only occasional ornamentation), and a running Bourée and Gigue.
The program concludes with Pisendel’s Solo Violin Sonata, which Olivier Fourés describes in his notes as the first tribute to Bach’s solo works. It’s cast in four movements, with an untitled exploratory first movement, an Allegro that’s not fugal but sounds a great deal as though it had been composed from the episodes in Bach’s fugues. Pisendel may have adopted Bach’s serious approach to the solo sonata genre, but he freely adapted Bach’s model to his own needs and expressive ends. The last two movements consist of a Gigue and a Variation, in the first of which the violinist includes several shifts that sound almost anomalous with their more pronounced portamentos. Breyer brings a bright virtuosity to this stunning work, although she also conveys the weightiness of its more serious moments. Rachel Barton Pine played the sonata in her collection of works for solo violin (Cedille 078,
28:2); and, in fact, many listeners will prefer Pine’s crisper, more cheerful reading of the work. But Breyer takes a different tack, and Zig-Zag’s reverberant recorded sound sweetens Breyer’s tone without obscuring the clarity of the lines she so carefully cultivates.
Breyer’s individuality expresses itself primarily through the force of her musical ideas in these pieces rather than in any consistent explication of their complexities in light of a single strong personality, such as characterized Milstein’s or Heifetz’s—or even Szigeti’s—readings. Still, she’s both soundly stylistic and highly inventive, and on account of those qualities, her performances deserve to be recommended to all kinds of listeners.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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