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CD reviews

Baroque music for violin solo

Timothy Schwarz, violin

rec: August 8 & Sept 12, 2009, Newark, De., University of Delaware
Centaur - CRC 3057 (© 2010) (65'52")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Partita No. 2 in d minor (BWV 1004); Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704): Passacaglia in g minor (C 105) [1]; Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762): Sonata senza basso in B flat; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Fantasia VII in E flat (TWV 40,20) [3]; Johann Paul VON WESTHOFF (1656-1705): Partia (Suite) No. 5 in d minor [2]

Source: [1] Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, [Mystery Sonatas], 1676; [2] Johann Paul von Westhoff, Sei Partite à violino senza basso accompagnato, 1696; [3] Georg Philipp Telemann, Fantaisie, 1735

Since the beginning of the 17th century the violin developed into one of the prime instruments. It held its position until our own time. This is largely due to its expressive powers which were well recognized in the baroque era. In Italy some players-composers achieved an astonishing level of playing which was reflected by their own compositions. At the end of the century a German-Austrian school of violin playing had developed, represented by Johann Jacob Walther, Johann Paul von Westhoff, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. Considering their virtuosity it is rather surprising that so few pieces for violin solo - without a basso continuo - have been written. Although it is safe to assume that some pieces of this kind may have gone lost, there can be little doubt that the repertoire is limited.

It is not surprising that the same compositions appear on nearly every disc of music for violin solo. The largest collections of such works are the six suites by Johann Paul von Westhoff and the sonatas and partitas by Bach. Telemann composed twelve fantasias but they are less idiomatic and certainly less demanding than those by Von Westhoff and Bach. Otherwise there are some individual pieces, like the Passacaglia by Biber and the compositions by Nicola Matteis and Thomas Baltzar, who emigrated to England from Italy and from Germany respectively.

This disc begins with three pieces from the German-Austrian violin school. Timothy Schwarz gives a nice performance of the Suite No. 5 by Johann Paul von Westhoff, like all suites consisting of four dances: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. Next follows Biber's ,Passacaglia which is included in the famous collection of Mystery Sonatas. I am less impressed with Schwarz' performance here, as I find his playing a bit hesitant, and his tone less firm than elsewhere on this disc.

This is more than compensated by an impressive account of the Partita No. 2 in d minor (BWV 1004) by Bach, which ends with the famous chaconne, the pièce de résistance of any violinist. Schwarz comes through with flying colours. His interpretation is passionate and theatrical, underlining the contrasts within the piece, without losing his grip on the whole. The previous four dance movements are also very well executed. The Fantasy No. 7 (TWV 40,20) by Telemann builds a nice contrast to Bach. There is less polyphony and less double stopping, not only because Telemann was not a violin virtuoso himself, but also because this work is written in the galant idiom. There is no reason to ignore it, though.

The disc ends with the Sonata senza basso by Francesco Geminiani, one of the most virtuosic violinists of the early 18th century from Italy. This sonata seems to have been recorded here for the first time as I couldn't find any other recording on the internet. It is not included in Geminiani's work-list in New Grove and the liner-notes don't tell where it comes from or when it was written. Geminiani is the author of a famous treatise on violin playing, and it is quite possible that this sonata was written to illustrate some aspects of his teaching. It is a quite remarkable composition, reflecting the individual character of Geminiani's sonatas for violin and bc. Timothy Schwarz brings an arresting performance which reveals Geminiani's as well as his own great skills.

I had never heard of Timothy Schwarz before, and he is not a baroque specialist, as he plays a wide repertoire which includes contemporary music. But on the baroque violin he is no minor force, as this disc shows. In particular Bach and Geminiani make this disc well worth having.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

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