As Wednesday night turned to Thursday morning, we heard Monica Huggett, violin; and Alexander Weimann, harpsichord play three duo sonatas and one work each for instrumental solo. The BEMF sponsored excursion into the world of the Baroque violin demonstrated just how very much J. S. Bach expanded the technical limits for both instrument and repertoire.
From the beginning of this outing in Jordan Hall we were in assured hands. The opening Sonata no. 1 for violin and harpsichord in b, BWV 1014, highlighted the skill of both Huggett and Weimann, even as it illustrated the ways Bach chafed against the limits especially of the Baroque violin bow. The violin’s opening long note entered seamlessly from the sound of the harpsichord, and Huggett‘s messa di voce was a marvel to behold. The hallmark of this performance for both musicians was a deep humility before the music and a profound thinking in musical gestures. That carried over throughout.
Weimann gave us the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903. I think I first heard this in a Wanda Landowska recording; certainly this performance put me in mind of both her and Glenn Gould. The emotion of more romantic performances met the precision of historic practice here. A musically challenging work for any keyboard, it seems to cry out for the might of an organ; Weimann took this flurry of notes and offered a touching and insightful reading. The overall structure always stood out, never devolving into a panoply of mere notes.
Huggett returned to the stage for Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, BWV 1017. In this exciting reading we traced an arc from funereal to joyous across the four movements. The second movement Allegro, playing as it does with the notion of a tonic center, was a foray into Italianate delight.
Weimann ceded the stage to Huggett for the first half (Adagio and Fugue) from Sonata No. 1 in G Minor for solo violin, BWV 1001. The first movement was effective and affecting. The Fugue started with a touching statement of the theme; when it launched into the interplay among voices (especially four), I found the tempo modulations a bit strong.
The recital concluded with Sonata No. 3 for violin and harpsichord in E Major, BWV 1016 (finally attaining a major keyed modality to send us all out into the middle of the night as we wended our ways home). From the cantatal Adagio, through the sprightly, dancing Allegro and the stately Adagio ma non tanto (simple in structure, laden with pathos) to the concluding, fleet Allegro—this was a fitting conclusion to the program.
Throughout Huggett made good use of the natural decay of violin strings and the ability to speak inside the harpsichord’s tones. Weimann brought a widely varied and judiciously applied series of touches to the keyboard. A dynamic pairing, they gave us all much to contemplate in these eighty minutes.