Back in my college days I was new to classical music and heavily into the big, dramatic romantics. Frequently, my room-mate and still dear friend would suggest I put some Bach on the old turntable and “clear the air.” As the years slid by and experience informed the mind, it became clearer on each hearing that Bach clears the air because of the clarity of his music. He always knows where he is going and what he is doing and his music is the vehicle of personal experience and emotion created with astonishing craftsmanship.
This was brought home again in tonight’s performance of a sampling of the miraculous art of J. S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin as performed by French violinist, Gabriel Richard. He is a tenure-track first violinist at the Paris Orchestra and was selected to be the solo violinist for the Lyon National Opera. In addition to his solo violin work, he is founder and member of the Thymos String Quartet. His remarkable talents place him in high demand virtually all over the musical world.
The program began with the Sonata No. 1 in G minor, S. 1001. Opening with the moving Adagio, Richard very quickly established a link between himself, the music and the audience. The second movement is a fantastic Fuga: Allegra. A fugue, when performed by an orchestra or ensemble is an amazing and complex thing. When performed by a solo keyboard artist, it is astonishing. When it is performed by a soloist with one bow and four strings, it is all but unbelievable. Richard’s performance of this movement was mind-boggling; the demands for technical skill, mental concentration and unerring comprehension were met masterfully.
The third movement, Siciliana, was played with especially charming treatment of grace notes and ornamentations while the Presto was a blindingly fast tour de force that had to have left the audience breathless.
The Partita No 1 in B minor, S. 1002 was played along with the double (a variation which elaborates on the implied figured bass line of the previous piece) for each movement. The four movements of the Partita are standard baroque dance forms: Allemanda, Corrente, Sarabande and Gigue (Bach substitutes a Bourrée marked Tempo di Borea here). Of note in the performance was the elegance of the Allemanda, the charm of the Corrente, the dancing joy of the Sarabande and the jaw-dropping speed of the Bourrée; notes spilling off the bow as though it were filled with warm beer that had been shaken before opening.
The Grave movement of the Sonata No 2 in A minor, S. 1003 can bring tears to your eyes if you allow the sweet, sad melody to get into you, and Richard’s tender and sensitive playing provided the full experience. The familiar Fuga was another virtuoso performance and the gorgeous Andante was marvelous. This Sonata ended with a joyous dancing Allegro and it was just perfect.
For an encore, Richard played the dazzling Chaconne from Partita No 2. It has been acclaimed by some of the greatest violinists of all time for its perfection of structure and its spiritual and emotional power. It was indeed an awe inspiring topping off of a wondrous feast. The air is clear and sweet to breathe.