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Bach and Violinists

available at Amazon
The Art of Instrumentation: Homage to Glenn Gould, G. Kremer, Kremerata Baltica

(released on September 25, 2012)
Nonesuch 528982-2 | 57'49"

available at Amazon
The Music I Love, R. Podger (compilation)

(released on October 9, 2012)
CCS SEL 6212 | 2 CDs

available at Amazon
Bach and Beyond, Part 1, J. Koh

(released on October 30, 2012)
Cedille CDR 90000 134 | 78'35"
Gidon Kremer once described the works of Bach for unaccompanied violin as the "Bible of music," a phrase that still sticks with me. These three new releases from three prominent violinists -- all of whom have radically different approaches to the instrument and to the same music -- offer a kaleidoscope of thoughts about the music of J. S. Bach, the “supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music,” as Nicolas Slonimsky once memorably put it. Leave it to Kremer to take the idea of connecting Bach and early music with contemporary music and run with it. His new CD records a program created for the Chamber Music Connects the World Festival in Kronberg, Germany, in 2010 -- coinciding with the 15th anniversary of Kremerata Baltica, Kremer's chamber orchestra, and the festival's 10th anniversary. New works were commissioned, either literal arrangements of Bach's music or tributes to them, around the theme especially of pieces played by Glenn Gould. The result is one of the more sublimely weird experiences of my listening life, especially since its bizarre aspects -- Kremer's violin shadowed by Andrew Pushkarev's vibraphone (!), the atavistic wisps of percussion in Alexander Wustin's bizarre arrangement of the three-part invention in F minor, Carl Vine's Las Vegas-kooky arrangement of the slow movement of the F minor harpischord concerto (it really goes off the rails only at about 2:40) -- remain so fresh after many listenings. Definitely not for everyone, but never boring.

Rachel Podger's new compilation, The Music I Love, is not for the serious collector, who likely has some or all of the recordings that are excerpted and stitched together here. (Indeed, we have reviewed some of them before.) The packaging has faults, including the fact that each excerpt is included as a single track (all three movements of a Vivaldi concerto or all movements of a Bach sonata, for example) and a booklet consisting of a few trite sentences (signed "Rachel") for each piece. There is not really any reason for the combination of pieces, other than that they are all pieces that Podger considers her favorites. Two Bach solo sonatas (nos. 3 and 6 -- Podger's are some of my preferred versions of these works) are the foundation for traditions of virtuosity extending into the classical period. Podger, as a historical-instrument specialist, is concerned only with meeting this music as close as possible to its own terms, with refreshing results.

Jennifer Koh has embarked on a three-program concept intended to draw connections between Bach's six works for unaccompanied violin and more recent music -- the related concert tour came to Strathmore earlier this fall. Koh's personal statement about this concept, published in the booklet of her new CD, says that the inspiration came from wanting to understand why she was so committed to classical music in an age when some people are convinced that it is a dying art form. If it helps you to think of Bach as relevant by connecting it to the music of Missy Mazzoli (Dissolve, O My Heart), good for you, but as long as at least one person can play the violin, the "Bible of music" will endure without anyone's help. Eugène Ysaÿe's pieces for unaccompanied violin are a natural match for Bach, so there is nothing particularly striking about the choice of that composer's second sonata. Of two more recent pieces placed between Bach's third and second partitas, Kaija Saariaho's Nocturne is the more alluring. Koh gives a meaty, intense reading of the Bach pieces, especially the second sonata's concluding Ciaccona. This music was comforting listening on this dark day.

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