CHRISTOPHER SMITH St Peter Mancroft, Norwich (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)
St Peter Mancroft, Norwich (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)
After creating a sensation at the 2005 festival with his interpretation of compositions for solo violin by JS Bach, Alexander Balanescu returned to perform the two works he did not play last time.
Universally regarded as masterpieces, they are, the soloist ruefully remarked, also celebrated for the demands that they make.
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Alone on the chancel steps in the darkened church, the violinist embarked on his enterprise. The generously proportioned Adagio at the opening of the Third Sonata revealed much about his approach. No technical problem daunted him, but it was not his way to make light of difficulties. As he dug out the subtleties of the chords, it was alike a sculptor chiselling his statue from a block of marble.
There was evidence, not of strain, but of effort, and the tone was sometimes unashamedly rugged. Relief came in the resolution of the harmonies, and the quieter passages seemed almost private, with the audience permitted to overhear the soloist's personal responses.
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With the pattern continuing through the Fugue and the Largo, the mood changed like clouds lifting. In the final movement, marked Allegro Assai, it went like the wind in rippling semi-quavers. Understandably, Balanescu let his features soften for a moment into a little smile.
The slightly more relaxed mood was maintained in the succession of movements based on dances in Bach's Second Partita. The Allemanda, in particular, was elegant and serene. The Sarabanda was shapely throughout all its complexities, only to be capped by the mighty Shaconne.
He ended his recital with a short improv-isation of his own, a skittish study in harmonics with some astonishingly inventive bowing.