In a master class conducted by Andrés Segovia at the University of Southern California, July 1981, students were given the opportunity to perform solo. While most students elected to perform pieces from Segovia’s repertory, a minority chose works outside. One student was stopped while playing the Adagio from Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1 as it is not polyphonic. Segovia explained: ‘ If you play this piece and there is a violinist in the audience he will smile at you. You don’t want him to smile at you. The Fugue is different; it is polyphonic. With the Fugue you can smile at the violinist. ‘
Segovia had a point: for sustain, timbre and a single line the violin is outstanding, if not unbeatable. The majority of the violin’s repertory is for the instrument to star in partnership or as a participant in collectiveness. Perhaps the greatest and most conspicuous exception is the six Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin by J.S. Bach. In the hands of a virtuoso, multiple stoppings cater for intervals giving the violin solo capability. The review disc pursues the violin in that status. Others including Paganini, Bartók, YsaŸe and Skalkottas wrote music for solo violin and it is from their opera that the programme here is selected.
Sixteen of the twenty-five tracks were written by Paganini, renowned as one of the greatest exponents of the violin, solo or otherwise. Although nothing subsequently written for solo violin excelled, or indeed compared with Bach’s six Partitas and Sonata, some outstanding solo music for the violin is presented here. The amazing Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe took only one week to sketch out the musical ideas for his six sonatas, Op. 27. His preoccupation with Bach’s earlier work is reflected in his own: the first sonata is a shadow of Bach’s own first sonata in the key of G minor – it does turn to the relative major. This preoccupation becomes more an emphatic presence in his ‘ Obsession ‘ the essence of which is taken from Bach’ s Partita in E major Prelude. The only work presented that was not written by a violinist is Béla Bartók’s Sonata, Sz 117. Although Nikos Skalkottas is best remembered as belonging to Schoenberg’s elite composition students, it should not be forgotten that he was first, and remained, a concert violinist of prodigious talent.
Violinist, George Zacharias was born in Athens and attended the Athens Conservatory of Music. At the time of his graduation in 1977 he won the First Prize and Special Virtuosity Prize. In that same year he was accepted into an advanced year of study at the Royal College of Music, London, and was subsequently admitted to the Bachelor’s Degree in Music and two postgraduate Degrees in Advanced Solo and Ensemble Performance. Under a full Greek State Scholarship for Music, in July 2004 he was awarded the Master’s of Music Degree in Performance with Distinction at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Australia.
For those outside the violin-playing fraternity, in-depth appreciation of the solo violin is probably an acquired taste. The bowing of intervals and multiples, can on occasion sound jerky. Here one is reminded of comments regarding Nathan Milstein whose bowing in solo music was likened to the ‘thrustings of a rapier.’ In reflecting on the comments of Andrés Segovia regarding the Fugue in G minor from the first Bach Sonata, it is interesting to compare the original for violin with the arrangement for guitar. One may then conjecture as to why he felt ‘ the guitarist can smile at the violinist ‘.
In all aspects, the rendition of the music on this disc by George Zacharias is well performed. His interpretations reflect not only a highly refined technique but also empathy with the essence of the music. It is well recommended but with one caveat: in small doses for those unaccustomed to listening to solo violin music for sustained periods. For the uninitiated, the Six Partitas and Sonatas by J.S. Bach are a good introductory undertaking.