By Inge Kjemtrup
For violinists, Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas are the highest peak in the mountain range of the instrument’s repertory.
Most professional violinists will scale this peak at some point, as evidenced by the extraordinary number of recordings. However, few violinists will choose to perform all of these complex and profound pieces in a single day.
The Korean violinist Kyung Wha Chung and the Hungarian violinist Kristóf Baráti are recent inductees to this select fraternity, yet, as I discovered at the Verbier Festival, where I interviewed Chung and heard Baráti in performance, their ideas on how to present the set are quite different.
Chung has a Bach solo disc that comes out in October on Warner Classics. In recital, she performs the set in order – a sonata and a partita followed by a short intermission. At Verbier, meanwhile, Baráti grouped the three Sonatas into a morning recital and the Partitas into an afternoon recital, ending with No.2 and its mighty Chaconne.
Baráti draws a full-throttled sound from the 1703 “Lady Harmsworth” Stradivarius, and in the high-ceilinged space of the Verbier Village church, his Bach reverberated impressively. This did lead to some loss of detail, which was largely made up for by his passionate playing and his understanding of the works’ underlying architecture.
As he played the Allegro assai that concludes Sonata No.3, Baráti had to compete with the ringing of church bells. He smilingly endured the intrusion and played the movement again as his encore.
Baráti is little-known in the U.S., having mostly made his career in Europe where he is championed by conductor Valery Gergiev. I hope to catch him in London this fall, when he plays both Prokofiev violin concertos over two nights with Gergiev and his Mariinsky Orchestra. His gutsy playing makes him one to watch.