JS BACH Sonatas and Partitas for violin alone (Thomas Bowes)
Thomas Bowes’s rough-hewn, deeply human new recording of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas is at every level a reflection on how large a universe a single violinist at Abbey Road Studios in London can create. Playing on a 1659 Nicolo Amati set up with modern fittings and gut strings for all but the E, Bowes often draws such extraordinary emotional conclusions that single movements like the Sarabande in Partita No 1 and the Largo of Sonata No 3 themselves seem timeless and sufficient for what Bowes suggests in his absorbing booklet notes: that the cycle constitutes ‘a larger super-work’ of meditations, perhaps on the tragic death of Bach’s first wife.
Bowes also understands that it is the relationships between movements that amplify the impact of each complete Sonata – and to some extent of all six, if you listen to them straight through. Following the Largo he rips into the Allegro assai with wonderful swagger, and he does the same again with the Tempo di Borea following the Double in BWV1002. He uses Baroque ornamentation sparingly but usually to make a telling emotional point, and adds a 21st-century variety of textures and dynamics including wonderful pointillistic effects and nearly inaudible pianississimos. And although the iconic Chaconne in Partita No 2 is given a profound reading, it is just one of a succession of miracles – not the whole show.
At each of the six recording sessions over 26 months Bowes was ‘encouraged to give complete readings, including all Bach’s repeats’. The unusually communicative nature of the results is a tribute to how closely he worked with Stephen Frost and Arne Akselberg to maintain a sense of genuinely spontaneous music-making.