Thanks to their eager adoption by Pau Casals during the early decades of the 20th century, Bach's cello suites have grown to become a crucial pillar of the classical pantheon, even among more casual fans. The suites certainly deserve recognition as works of outstanding genius, but it's a shame that their popularity has overshadowed Bach's solo efforts for the cello's musical cousin, the violin. For even compared to the rest of the composer's imposing output of chamber music, the violin partitas and sonatas stand out for their heart-wrenching virtuosity and graceful design.
The Hungarian violinist Tamas Fejes brilliantly succeeded in demonstrating just why this music deserves to be heard by a larger audience than it has hitherto enjoyed. He began his recital with a furious rendition of the first partita, each dance followed by its 'double' or variation. Despite only having his own capabilities to rely upon, Fejes managed to effortlessly drift Bach's notes through the church, imbuing even the relative calm of the Sarabande with a majestic kind of power. The concluding Bourrée was a lightning storm of stops and syncopation.
Next followed the third and final Sonata, with a glorious fugue as its centerpiece. That Bach could even conceive of composing a fugue on an instrument with only one stave, where only two strings can be played at once, is impressive enough. That he could weave several voices together for a full ten minutes, constantly harmonising one rich melody with another, is quite astounding. Fejes' ability to tenderly explore each voice individually while still retaining the polyphonic structure of the music was something to behold.
The performance was by no means perfect. While not playing many wrong notes, Fejes occasionally got lost, repeating certain phrases unnecessarily before continuing. Nevertheless, one surely cannot be too critical: the music was immensely demanding and Fejes played from memory for over an hour.
Add to this the news that he's performing another third of Bach's cycle next week, including the monumental Chaconne, and we can surely find it within ourselves to forgive Fejes' mistakes. Let's face it, few of us are ever going to play Bach's music this well, even if we've heard his famous cello Prelude countless times before.