Selecting pieces for solo violin did not use to feature highly for me. They struck me as lengthy and dull and rarely provided me with the right fix: there was almost always something more fulfilling, more substantial, and often not necessarily classical.
When it comes to the Sonatas and Partitas by J S Bach, three of each, this can be quite understandable, for in the wrong hands they can come over as mundane exercises; but in the right hands, they are something altogether different. If, like me, you thought that listening to solo violin was boring, think again – and feast your ears on this to be converted for ever.
The pieces were composed in 1720 (around the same time as the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, on which I have posted previously). The music critic Kirk McElhearn hailed them as “miracles of music, where a single violin embarks on some of the most remarkable musical discourses ever written.” I have heard them played by many of the great masters, but it was not until I heard Alina Ibragimova playing them all at the BBC Proms last year that I really woke up and realised, thanks entirely to her account, what I was missing: her rendition took them out of any exercise category and into the realms of freedom, even improvisation. They come alive, full of colour, contrast, different and very distinct voices: far from dull, they become thrilling and totally absorbing.
I am attaching Ibragimova’s playing of the Prelude to the third Partita, which will be familiar to many; but I wonder if you will have heard anything like this before. It is easy enough to see how violinists may have viewed these as exercises, but even a scale in the right hands can become a joy in itself. This is also a good example of where the visual can enhance the enjoyment of the sound: player and instrument are as one, acting as a combined conduit to allow the music to emerge, uncluttered, and crystal clear. The result is exquisite, supporting Benedict’s observation in Much Ado About Nothing – “Is it not strange that sheeps’ guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?”
I hope you will be similarly converted and inspired to dig out the rest.