YSAŸE Sonatas for Solo Violin JS BACH Sonata BWV1001
The overt references to the Bach unaccompanied works for violin in Eugène Ysaÿe’s Solo Sonatas mean that the pairing of the two is neither a new idea nor difficult to find. But a disc that is unsullied by third parties and leaves Bach and Ysaÿe alone to thrash out their ideas is rarer, and enticing. Further, the combination on this first volume of the two by the German violinist Antje Weithaas is a good one: she has bookended the first two Ysaÿe sonatas – those most blatantly influenced by Bach – with the First Sonata and the Second Partita, the most important examples of each type from the unaccompanied violin works. It also means the disc opens with the Adagio of the G minor Sonata and ends with the Chaconne of the D minor Partita – two of the most affecting movements in the solo violin repertoire.
Weithaas expresses that the Ysaÿe sonatas are in part performed here in order to give them some status, other than that of showpiece, which they don’t currently enjoy. The considerable number of mainstream recordings made of the complete set over the past five years suggests that her perception is slightly behind the times. Nevertheless, it is particularly exciting and refreshing to hear Weithaas in true isolation with her beautiful and varied tone (on her modern Greiner violin, which she plays with extraordinary skill of compensation, especially when maintaining the heavy poise of the Chaconne) and absolutely meticulous technique. Most of all, you can hear her complex thinking clearly evidenced in the light but ever-present dance lilt in all Bach’s movements, despite their musical and intellectual gravitas. The subtlety with which she brings out the many layers of dialogue in the Bach and the noticeable contrast in the Ysaÿe, where she skilfully references the former composer’s works but at the same time addresses the latter’s as compositions with many points to make, is striking and moving: points that are not simply about virtuosity either but, for instance, the challenge of continuity of thought in the face of intense distraction, as in ‘Les Furies’ at the close of the Second Sonata.