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Tutta sola
Rachel Podger (violin)
rec. 2022, Parish Church of St Mary & St Eanswythe, Folkestone, UK
Channel Classics CCSSA44422 SACD [68]

Rachel Podger’s recordings of Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin have been widely regarded as among the very finest since they were released over twenty years ago, and she is firmly established as a leading interpreter of the Baroque period and beyond.  In this new recording, she illuminates the historical context within which these canonical works were created, judiciously selecting pieces for solo violin by other Baroque composers that similarly stretched the expressive and technical limits of the instrument.

As explained in the accompanying notes, Johann Paul von Westhoff’s writing for solo violin, much of which pre-dates Bach’s sonatas and partitas by some two decades, was almost certainly a major influence on the latter.  For example, there are clear similarities between von Westhoff’s first partita in A minor and the first movement of Bach’s second partita.  However, that piece is not included here.  Instead, Podger performs the suite for solo violin without bass in A major – one of several highlights on this disc.  The substantial technical challenges, particularly in the allemande and courante are navigated with suppleness and apparent ease, and the opening prelude is beautifully handled (and to this listener’s ears, the second section of this movement bears some echoes of Bach’s monumental chaconne from partita no. 2).

Johann Joseph Vilsmayr’s artificiosus concentus pro camera, published in 1715 is a collection of six partitas, although in an unfortunate omission, the actual work performed here (no. 6) is not specified anywhere in the CD information or booklet.  Each of the partitas comprises a prelude followed by a sequence of dances, generally smaller in scale to Bach’s examples, but all highly engaging and enjoyable pieces.  I would have liked to hear Rachel taking on the fifth partita in G minor too (for which the prelude has been interpreted as another possible inspiration for Bach’s chaccone) but this is a perfectly paced, expressive interpretation of an outstanding but rarely heard work.

Biographical details around Nicola Matteis Jr are extremely scant and further obscured by uncertainty around his father’s life and work (Matteis Sr has at various times been considered second only to Corelli in musicianship, and a primary influence in the development of a more Italianate style of playing in England but was largely forgotten until the mid to late 20th century).  Here, Podger performs Matteis Jr’s fantasia in C minor, an intriguing and quite abstract work.  This music has a mournful quality, perfectly paced and beguiling in its effect.  Three short didactic pieces from the three volume Nogueira manuscript of around 1720 follow, which, to my ears are less stylistically or aesthetically interesting.

The Klagenfurt manuscript, from which three movements are selected, dates from around 1685, the year of Bach’s birth.  The first of these, a prelude, is one of several highlights here.  Podger plays with such imaginative insight, spontaneity and grace.  These rare works by an unknown composer deserve much better recognition.

John Walsh’s 1705 collection of preludes featured short pieces by the most important and gifted violinists and composers of the time, including Corelli and Purcell, both represented here. Corelli’s influence, in particular, can be heard in the violin sonatas of Giuseppe Tartini whose piccola sonata rounds off this quite wonderful disc.  Throughout, Podger demonstrates outstanding articulation and insight, drawing out the beauty in these neglected works.  A stunning achievement and surely a contender for recording of the year.

Peter Bright

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Toccata and fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (transcribed by Chad Kelly in A minor)
Johann Joseph Vilsmayr (1663-1722)
Artificiosus concentus pro camera
Nicola Matteis Jr. (ca. 1690-1737)
Fantasia in C minor: con discretione
Pedro Lopes Nogeuira (fl. 1720)
Movements from Nogeuira manuscript
Movements from Klagenfurt manuscript (mid 1680s)
Johann Paul von Westhoff (1656-1705)
Suite for solo violin without bass in A major
John Walsh (ca. 1666-1736)
Select preludes and volentarys for the violin
Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770)
30 violin sonatas: piccola sonata 17 in D major, B.D2