Described as something of a holy grail for violinists and "impossible" to realise, Bach's 'Ciaconna' from his Partita in D Minor is a deeply intriguing piece, and a daunting prospect for the instrumentalist. Indeed, tonight's soloist provided the above descriptions before tackling it. Edmund Jones' insights into the composition, history and technicality of the 'Ciaccona' were enlightening and gave a route in for those not well versed in Baroque repertoire.
This is an atypical piece for Baroque, and also probably not what comes to mind when you think of Bach – daintiness, regular machine-like rhythms and oft-changing harmony aren't on the menu tonight. What Jones launched into was a musical journey whose dimensions and intensity would sound more at home in the Romantic mid-19thcentury. Big chords were attacked with relish, unresolved dissonances were left to reverberate around St Michael's Church. He didn't milk it though, and a piece which can run to 18 minutes was left at a relatively trim 15!
Having brought us through the many iterations of the unifying harmonic theme, Jones swept into the close of the piece with horse-hair hanging loose off his bow, and presumably sweat on his brow. His manner contrasted the sturm und drang though, a warm host as well as very capable musician. Unusually but illuminatingly, what followed was a performance of Busoni's piano transcription of the same piece. Ning Pookhaothong realised it with some muscle and delicacy. Indeed, as Busoni in the late 1800s translated the solo violin score into something that embraced the modern piano's expressive/technical scope, listening to these arrangements side-by-side was like hearing what Bach's prescience bequeathed to the Romantic era. Here was some of his legacy.
A rather disposable concept leant the night its title – the controversial theory that Bach used numerology to encode his recently deceased wife's name into the 'Ciaconna', and other exegeses of his score. Fortunately the programme was good enough to work without this framework, beginning with the Partita's 'Sarabande' and later giving the players opportunities to unite. A closer by Brahms was a little overshadowed by the central diptych, though, but this was perhaps unavoidable. The act of making music is always an encoding, but isn't it better to receive than to dissect? There may be grief in here, but there is certainly genius. Edmund Jones brought us back to the quotidian afterwards, greeting the audience members and generously serenading a baby with smoothly bowed nursery rhymes.