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Monday, January 25, 2016

Jennifer Koh, Bach & Beyond, Part 2

The art of unaccompanied solo violin is very much one of the pinnacles of chamber achievements in the classical realm. Virtuoso Jennifer Koh gives us four such masterworks for the violinist on her own Bach and Beyond, Part 2 (Cedille 90000 154 2-CDs). It is listed at two-CDs for the price of one, so it's a good value as well as a fine listen. I have not heard Volume 1 as yet, but if it is like this one, it is very good, I would think.

We get for this volume J. S. Bach's Sonata No. 1 and Partita No. 1, done with expressive zest and detailed care. The "and Beyond" is Bela Bartok's "Sonata for Solo Violin" Sz. 117 and Kaija Saariaho's "Frises" for solo violin and violin-based electronics that are produced in the live playing.

All four works are first efforts for the solo violin from the composers involved. Koh intends the program to affirm the past-in-the-present and the present-in-the-past, how Bach's compositions are assumed and incorporated into the thinking of the 20th and 21st century composers working with the form, and in turn how timeless, even modern the Bach works sound to us, in their own way. And it is no mistake--Saariaho for example starts her work with the final D from the Chaconne of Bach's "Partita No. 2" and the music follows logically out of it, originally but intentionally so.

Jennifer helps all this along with readings and interpretations that are totally fresh and current, as much periodless Bach as not, readings that stress the universality of the music beyond the time he wrote in.

The Bartok and Saariaho are themselves "beyond," too. They are much more than simply "modern" in their inherent idiomatic writing for the violin, in their commonality of language in key ways to the Bach works. I would not want to put too fine a point on that, though, because of course there are distinguishing elements for each work, period, composer. You never really completely feel free of time and place, and that is all for the best.

Jennifer Koh has a stirring way about her. There is perfect technical prowess, but there is also an intimate understanding of the music and a personal approach that marks this Volume 2 as a significant statement, an artistic triumph.

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