United Kingdom Bach: Isabelle Faust (violin), Kristian Bezuidenhout (harpsichord), Chipping Campden International Music Festival, St James’ Church, Chipping Campden, 20.5.2016. (RJ)
Bach, Sonata for violin and harpsichord in A major, BWV 1015; Sonata for solo violin No 2 in A minor, BWV 1003; Sonata for violin and harpsichord in E major, BWV 1016; Sonata for violin and harpsichord in F minor, BWV 1018; Toccata for solo harpsichord in D minor, BWV 913; Sonata for violin and harpsichord in G major, BVW 1019
Bach’s time as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen (1717-1723) when he was in his thirties proved to be particularly productive period. Here it was that he felt able to experiment and try out new ideas, and his output ranged from his remarkable works for solo violin to the earliest duo sonatas in which both instruments are accorded equal importance.
This was evident from the BVW 1015 sonata with its opening marked dolce which offered a sweet-sounding, quietly flowing antidote to the cares of the week. The lively allegro with its dance-like fugal aspects was performed with gusto by Isabelle Faust and Kristian Bezuidenhout, who quickly changed their tone for the song-like canon in the andante third movement.
Bach’s works for solo violin test the technique and stamina of the most accomplished violinists, but Miss Faust made light of its complexities in the Sonata No 2, especially in the allegro in which the fugal parts are interrupted by more flowing passages. The Andante with its flowing melody and bass line brought to mind the concertos of Vivaldi, while the spirited finale was notable for its echo effects.
BVW 1016 is in the form of the Italian sonata da chiesa in which slow and fast movements alternate. The violin dominated in the opening adagio, but the two instruments had equal importance in the second adagio of the sonata which was the emotional heart of the work. In BWV 1018 the tables are turned with the violin providing obbligato support for the harpsichord at times in the first movement. The high spirited second movement seemed oddly misplaced – one felt it would have worked better as the finale – while the adagio third movement proved to be a particularly sombre affair.
I was less impressed by the early Toccata for harpsichord despite Kristian Bezuidenhout’s committed playing. This was written at least ten years before he came to Anhalt-Cöthen and the music felt somewhat laboured, although it eventually got into its stride in the finale. The lively harpsichord solo in BWV 1019 offered a far better opportunity for us to appreciate Bezuidenhout’s musical brilliance and dexterity as a soloist.
You cannot always judge a work by its label and the three sonatas already performed were all refreshingly different, even though their BVW numbers were so similar. The same was true of BVW 1019, which had five movements rather than four and provided a scintillating end to the evening. The three central movements are in minor keys sandwiched between two bright, cheerful allegros. The slow movements were performed with sensitivity, the second having an expressive, plaintive character, but the central harpsichord solo was the highlight giving gave this work a distinctive allure.
This is the first time Isabelle Faust and Kristian Bezuidenhout have been invited to play at the Chipping Campden Festival. Judging from the warm reception accorded to this well-matched duo it will not be the last.