CD Review: Jonathan Swartz finds beguiling Bach voice with his violin

Suite Inspiration (Soundset Recordings)

This month’s trilogy of fascinating new recordings of music by J.S. Bach includes Toronto native Jonathan Swartz’s beguiling interpretation of the Partita No. 2 for solo violin.

(For a review of David Jalbert’s recording of the Goldberg Variations and Lara St. John’s Bach Sonatas, click here.)

Swartz sounds as if his bow were strung with threads of silk rather than horsehair. This is especially difficult to achieve with solo violin pieces, because the performer has to separate the notes on the score into melody and accompaniment or, at the very least, a dialogue between two or more voices — all of which have to come from the same bow.

The full beauty of Swartz’s work becomes clear in the long, closing Chaconne in the Bach Partita, where the violinist sustains a palpable musical arc, complete with delicate counterpoint, over 16 minutes. It’s something to treasure.

Swartz, who has been based in Arizona for several years, but makes regular visits to Canada, has complemented this album with a tidy unaccompanied Sonata by Bach contemporary, master violinist Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755), as well as a new suite, and a Chaconne, both clearly inspired by Bach’s Partitas, by Toronto-based composer Kieren MacMillan.

Coming after the Bach, MacMillan’s Suite No. 1 sounds a bit anonymous. It is loosely based on a Baroque dance suite, containing five movements, but the styles of each movement could use a bit more differentiation. The “Exit Music” finale sounds as if the violinist absent-mindedly wandered off before finishing the suite.

You can check out the details, as well as audio samples here.


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