Bach 2 the Future

Bach 2 the Future
Fenella Humphreys
Champs Hill Records CHRCD102. 79’16

Bach: Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006; Cheryl Frances-Hoad: Suite No 1; Eugène Ysaÿe: Sonata for Solo Violin No 2; Gordon Crosse: Orkney Dreaming; Biber: Passacaglia; Piers Hellawell: Balcony Scenes; Cyril Scott: Bumblebees.

This is the first volume of a project devised by violinist Fenella Humphreys. She has invited six contemporary composers to write works related to one of the six Bach works for unaccompanied violin. I am not sure of the format of future volumes, but this CD includes just one Bach piece (the Partita No 3 in E minor) together with three of the new works, one based on the E minor Partita (by Cheryl Frances-Hoad), the other two based on the other two Partitas.

Although playing a modern violin, and very obviously a modern violin player, Fenella Humphreys demonstrates a clear understanding of the period techniques of violin performance in her Bach playing, producing a clean and clear sound, with an appropriate phrasing.  Her opening Prelude is vigorous and energetic, and she shows an evident sense of humour in her delightfully paced coda of the Gavotte en Rondeau. In contrast, her gentle and refined playing of the Menuet demonstrates a fine sense of rhetoric.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Suite No 1 follows the Bach Partita very appropriately with an enigmatic opening repeated solo E. It builds to a climax in the third movement. Until the final movement, her references to Bach are subtle. An excellent piece by this young composer. The following work, by the Belgian violinist/composer Eugène Ysaÿe (probably composed in the 1920s), is far more reliant on the E minor Bach Partita, dramatically combining Bach themes with the Dies irae in three of the four movements.   

Gordon Crosse’s ‘Orkney Dreaming’ was inspired by Bach’s 1st Partite, from which it quotes. The Andante third movement is particularly elegiac – a nice contrast to the concluding dance, with its snatches of ‘Scotland the Brave’. Piers Hellawell’s ‘Balcony Scenes’ (written for Humphreys  in 2014, and incorporating her name in the opening flourish) is inspired by Bach’s 2nd Partite. In its alternating pairs of movements (Fantasia and Bicinicum) it reflects key musical structures of the Baroque era. Two tracks unrelated to the project’s Bach theme are Fenella Humphreys’ exceptionally fine performance of the Biber Passacaglia, perfectly catching its delicately meditative mood.  The CD finishes with the buzzing of Cyril Scott’s tiny ‘Bumblebees’, the plural of the title made evident in the double stopping required of the player. A fascinating CD, and an enterprising project.

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