|J. S. Bach:||Sonata in C Major for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1005|
|J. S. Bach:||Partita in B Minor for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1002|
|J. S. Bach:||Sonata in A Minor for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1003|
|Vartan Manoogian, violin|
Vartan Manoogian has not only the talent, the deep musical experience and the required formidable technique, but also the sheer nerve -- a combination not found often in this world -- to face the demons of chance and doubt squarely, undertaking a public performance of all six works by Bach for unaccompanied violin. BWV 1001-1006 comprises three sonatas (four-movement, Italianate works) and three partitas (dance-movement suites based on French baroque models). To say they are not easy to play would be a colossal understatement. As with many musical masterworks, insightful, convincing performances of Bach's solo violin sonatas and partitas are the effort of a lifetime. Completing the project he began last September, on Friday evening at Mills Hall Manoogian offered the Partita in B Minor and the Sonatas in A Minor and C Major.
Quite by chance I was the first person to get backstage after the performance to offer my congratulations and thanks. Manoogian was putting his instrument away and turned to face me. As I shook his hand he was subdued, somewhat ashen and trembling slightly. He had given it his all and it left him a little drained. I think that's what it takes to play on that level, and gratifying though they are, a standing ovation, wild applause and shouts of "Bravo!" from a large audience cannot instantly replenish the energy just expended.
I mention the energy, the daring and the physical and emotional costs now because over the past 40 years there has been a major shift in the way 18th-century music is performed, as well as in the instruments themselves, including violins and bows. Manoogian plays the so-called "modern" instrument, and his approach to tempo and articulation are likewise modern. My respect and admiration for the performances of last fall and last weekend are not diminished by these facts, though the final result is decidely different from period-instrument styles, which generally feature faster tempi and lighter, much less legato bowing. It takes just as much dedication, effort and musical mastery to play the enormous, complex fugues of the A Minor and C Major sonatas in the one style as in the other. The instrumental works of Bach share an aesthetic of purity and intellect, but they are not abstractions; rather, they come to life only if the player has the skill, the grit and above all the heart for it. Manoogian does.
Isthmus, April, 2000
Copyright 2000 Jess Anderson