Senza Basso — Auf dem Weg zu Bach

Senza Basso — Auf dem Weg zu Bach
Music by Baltzar, Matteis, Westhoff, Torelli, Corelli,

Vilsmayr, Pisendel, Purcell and Biber
Nadja Zwiener, Violin

Genuin GEN 21728. 65’57

Well known in the UK as the leader of The English Concert and in Germany as leader of the Bachakademie Stuttgart, Senza Basso — Auf dem Weg zu Bach (Without bass — on the way to Bach) is violinist Nadja Zwiener‘s first solo CD. It explores a fascinating genre of music for solo violin preceding Bach’s famous 1720 Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. In his programme essay ‘Melodic polyphony, polyphonic melody – composing senza basso in the Baroque era’, Michael Maul points out the challenges of composing, playing and listening to music with a normal bass line, describing it as “an art of omission and of sensing the unplayed”.

This is another important step towards cancelling the long-taught notion that Bach started many musical conventions that we now know to have had a long tradition pre-Bach. One particularly fascinating set of tiny pieces comes from a document in the National Library of Scotland, Walsh & Hare’s 1705 “Select Preludes or Volentarys for ye Violin by the most eminent Masters in Europe”, a collection of arrangements of pre-existing pieces by composers such as Corelli, Torelli and Purcell, represented here.

Bach hovers over a number of the composers, as detailed by Nadja Zwiener in her comprehensive programme discussion. This ‘hovering’ includes the fact that Bach lived in Westhoff’s former house in Weimer for a few years, where he also met Pisendel in 1709. Bach could well have known the pieces by Westhoff and Pisendel included on this recording. The Pisendel Sonata à Violino solo senza Basso a-moll is a particular demanding work for the player, with virtuosic figurations and double-stopping in the concluding Giga. Variationen (at 8’56, the longest piece on the CD) that Nadja Zwiener makes sound effortless.

It is appropriate that the recording concludes with Biber’s famed Passacaglia from the 1676 Rosenkranzsonaten, just 3 second shorter that Pisendel’s Giga. The descending four notes that underpin the entire piece neatly balance the four acending notes of the opening piece, Baltzar’s Prealudium. Purcell’s Prelude in g (N773) in the version from the Walsh & Hare publication makes an excellent short introduction to the Passacaglia.

The whole programme is well thought-out in terms of the progression of pieces and keys which Zwiener suggests “creates a kind of emotional and tonal circle that corresponds to the journey from the 17th to the 18th century and back again”. It was recorded in the Bethanienkirche in Leipzig, the attractive acoustic adding a pleasent bloom to the sound whilst allowing individual notes to shine through. The playing is beautifully sensitive.