Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Yet Another Safety

Though I am old and have long been exposed to recordings of the Chaconne, I have never tried to play it. I have never held a copy of Segovia's notorious transcription in my over-washed nurse's hands. Of course I've heard it many times and I own more recordings of it than I can think of right now.

Hillary Hahn was a teenager when her debut recording of Bach was issued about a decade ago. Her performance of this magnificent work is the most clear-minded I've yet heard.

Rachel Podger is a British early-music specialist whose baroque-violin version gets a bit of play in these parts.

Rachel Barton-Pine is the baroque violinist whose sound is most likely to actualize what Bach himself may have heard... in his head. Though he was a keyboard virtuoso I sometimes doubt he had the violin chops to play the sonatas and partitias he wrote for violin solo. These pieces are way difficult.

But hey, Mozart was a keyboard genius whose father regretted that he was so, just because Wolfie was also such a good violinist. Bach may indeed have been a doubler. Like Illinois Jaquet, the jazz sax player who always renders "Around Midnight" on the bassoon.

John Holloway rounds out my little list of baroque enthusiasts who have taken up this wonderful piece of music.

I have pretty much ignored the guitarists' versions of this absolute masterpiece. I can honestly say I've never heard the Segovia version. However, I did once hear a live performance in a very small venue in which the lutenist Hopkinson Smith easily soared his way through the whole Partita in which the Chaconne serves as a gargantuan culmination.

I had worked that Sunday, then left the ICU at 1530 to catch the concert at an intimate venue, Bob Conant's little barn. I sat in the first row only a meter away from Smith. I heard his breathing. His fret squeaks. Not many of those. His technique was very clean. Most excellent. Actually, it scared me. Lute strings can be a bit squishy but his sound was much free of artifacts.

I have spent the past few years rebuilding my technique. My left hand is now quite traditional and archly correct. The angle of my right wrist is also approptiate but one can always use advice concerning the way the fingernails strike the strings.

Now I claim the Chaconne. It's my year for it.

Yes, there is the "Morimur" interpretation which considers Bach's knowledge of popular songs and relevant church melodies which he probably imbedded in his artifice. Personally I think Johann was into that. I'm on it like paint on a park bench.

I resolve to make my own grab.

I have always enjoyed difficulties. That led me to run Boston six times. It got me through music school and nursing school.



D Minor.



It is a mission of religious intensity. Just give it to me please.

Sometimes I'll be starting an IV, taking a phone order, or punching out meds from the Pyxis, and I will have the moto perpetuo minor-key section of the Chaconne running through my mind's ear. Or the repeated tonics in the major-key mid-section. Or just the opening bar itself.

That sound is full up in my ears and eyes. Sometimes I hear it unhinged from any particular instrument. Just an abstract sound. No violin, no Busoni or Segovia transcription. Just that form. As if it were a wonderfully amusing string of numbers or a joke involving some of your closest relatives.


wunelle said...

It was thru the Busoni transcription, at the hands of Alicia de Larrocha, that I made acquaintance with this piece. I was immediately mesmerized. I was amazed to learn of its solo violin origin, as this transcription is almost symphonic. It's actually a fabulous exercise to rinse away the artifacts of Busoni's translation and find the actual bones beneath.

So many of the people you mention here are new to me. I have Hillary Hahn's debut recording, but the others are new territory for me.

I'm coming to love the lute, though I don't know much about it. Its additional resources over the guitar make me favor it. I have a recently-acquired Nigel North recording of Bach suites, and I have a bunch of Paul O'Dette doing Dowland and Bach, but that's it.

Any recommendations?

leslie said...

I'm particularly fond of Paul Galbraith's rendition - on an 8 string guitar he plays held like a cello - absolutely remarkable.

Don't know if I've ever posted before - been reading and enjoying you for ages.

Eli Blake said...

One of my eleven year olds plays the violin.

She may not be ready to play Baroque music, but as a parent I relish every time I get to hear her play.