June is proving a stellar month for Cecylia Arzewski, the Polish-born violinist and former concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for 18 years. Since leaving the orchestra in 2008, Arzewski has pursued a much more personal career. In addition to solo performances, she’s teaching more, including established professionals — some of her students are members of the ASO.
Arzewski has also been deeply engaged in recording a project that she considers her legacy: the six monumental sonatas and partitas for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach. That dream recording, “J.S. Bach: Sonatas and Partitas,” has just been released as a double CD on Bridge Records.
The six works alternate back and forth between sonatas, each a four-movement sonata da chiesa with a fugue as the second movement, and partitas, dance suites born of the Baroque genre known as sonata da camera. In all, it’s just over two hours of music for one violin, alone, by itself.
Although Bach had finished composing the set by 1720, it wasn’t until a half-century after his death that an error-riddled edition was published by Simrock in 1802. Still, they were mostly ignored until violin virtuoso Josef Joachim began to champion them in the later 19th century. Today they are at the core of the violin repertoire and have been extensively recorded.
Why then would someone bother to make another recording? Perhaps for the same reason as climbing Mount Everest, even though that’s been done before too. For any violinist, it is the challenge of reaching the apex of Bach’s mountain as others have done and inscribing one’s own initials there. It’s a lifelong climb to do it well.
ArtsATL interviewed Arzewski in May of last year, while she was in the midst of the process of recording, preparing for her next sessions at New York’s Academy of Arts and Letters by extensively performing everywhere she could.
Arzewski takes a detailed, vigorously modern approach to Bach’s music, eschewing the period performance practice that has been in fashion for the last few decades. She is modern not only in the sense of instrument and technique, but also in well-crafted attention to detail. Her performances throughout are articulate, with good timbral scope, and have emotional range from powerful to subtle that’s never precious or absent a vital, inner tensile strength.
Producer Steven Epstein and engineer Richard King have lucidly captured and presented the vitality and detail of Arzweski”s playing.
In addition to the release of her new recording, Arzewski is artistic director of the North Georgia Chamber Festival, which makes its debut this month in Dahlonega. It opens today, June 15, with a performance by the Vega String Quartet. A total of four concerts will take place over 10 days.
The remaining performances will feature violinists Kenn Wagner and Olga Shpitko, violist Yang-Yoon Kim and cellist Charae Krueger. They will be joined by pianist William Ransom for the final concert on Sunday, June 24. The schedule of mainstream chamber classics will include music of Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Debussy and Stravinsky.