Jason Vieaux – Bach Volume 2: Works for Guitar reviewed by Leonardo Garcia
While Grammy Award winning guitarist extraordinaire Jason Vieaux needs no introduction here, it is worth posting when he releases a new solo recording, particularly when it is one by Johann Sebastian Bach. Released on the Azica label, Jason’s Bach Volume 2: Works for Violin includes Violin Partita in E Major, BWV1006, Sonata in C Major, BWV1005, and Sonata in G Minor, BWV1001. This recording comes almost a decade after the release of Bach Volume 1: Works for Lute. And, after listening to both, I can assure you it was worth the wait.
Jason’s strengths as a musician seem well channelled through Bach’s works. His fluidity in phrasing coupled with his rich and expressive sound solidify his interpretations as ones that are definitive. He is clearly up for the task after such a convincing and erudite reading of Bach’s Lute works.
Starting with Partita in E Major, BWV1006, Jason plays the often heard and recorded suite with a familiarity of an old friend. Clear, energetic, and expressive as always, the virtuosic playing in the prelude paves the way for the other dances. The Gavotte en Rondeau has some wonderful and original ornamentation which breathes new life into somewhat overplayed movements. The lines of the Bourree and Gigue are crafted beautifully as if Jason were highlighting a dance between the melodic and harmonic lines as would a master conductor. Though the exalted Partita in E Major follows the Sonata in C Major, BWV1005 in the series of violin sonatas and partitas, it does serve as a great opener for the recording.
The Sonata in C Major, BWV1005 has one of the most demanding fugues (or movements in general after the Ciaccona from BWV1004) for solo violin and though it is considerably easier to craft the counterpoint with the guitar, it makes the movement no less challenging as it opens yet another element to control and balance with the whole and contrapuntal motion of the lines. Jason’s comfortable tempo never relents but still manages to provide enough space to let voices breathe and sing while letting the harmonic architecture remain audible to the listener.
The Largo, one of my favorite movements of all the violin works, is approached simply and elegantly. Jason allows the purity of the melodic lines, always at the forefront of the interpretation, to sing openly. The end of this movement is magical with Jason’s ornamentation sounding more violinistic as it fades to the Allegro. While the E Major Partita was transcribed for Lute by Bach himself adding subtle harmonic support to the violin score, the Sonatas were not (with the exception of the Fugue in the G Minor Sonata). Jason has tastefully added supporting voices to the Allegro to enhance the sheer joy and rise of spirit as Bach approaches the end of the violin cycle of solo works.
What struck me first while listening to Jason’s interpretation of the Sonata in G Minor, BWV1001 was how relaxed it was – more like the telling of a story where the pace allows the energy to build versus one where everything is given away too soon. The exquisite ornamental lines of the Adagio, to the crispness of the voices in the Fugue, which is one of the finest renditions I have heard to date of this movement, all point to Jason’s natural ease with the complexity of what is truly before him. Clear, crisp, while also resonant and rich, this quality cannot be attributed to the wand alone. Jason’s playing sparkles here and to put it as my teenage sons often say, “it just vibes!”
And as a fantastic way to end the journey with Jason and Bach through this recording, he leaves us with the Presto. Virtuosically played with joy and intensity, a statement more than a suggestion, “This is how it is!”
To paraphrase Jason when he says that Bach is always there for us to explore, Jason’s explorations are of the highest kind – ones with a clear command of the instrument, a prodigious musical mind, and what sounds like a heart in the right place. Here’s hoping there is a Volume 3!