The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Philosophy and dance come to bear on a stimulating set of Bach’s solo violin works
Musicians: Ruth Waterman (violin)
Composer: Bach

These thought-provoking performances, with their superb analytical essays, have taken an age to reach us. Leeds-born Ruth Waterman, known to connoisseurs for four decades as a deeply philosophical Bach interpreter, has lectured assiduously on the music. She made the recordings in 2000–3 for Bavarian Radio.

First movements of sonatas are probed with rare concentration: the A minor Grave ends with a Capet-style bow vibrato. The haunting opening of the C major, which Waterman did not dare perform until she was 40, is slow and eerie, and she goes straight into the Fugue, which she begins simply, only gradually increasing intensity. The G minor Fugue is more elegant, the A minor ‘jaunty and sad’, as she puts it. Third movements of sonatas are provocatively ‘lopsided’ in phrasing but finales pose no problems.

It is typical of Waterman that she learnt how to dance the Baroque dances used by Bach in the partitas, often modifying her interpretations as a result. From Bach’s alternative versions for keyboard or orchestra, she has learnt his style of ornamenting repeats. The ornaments in the E major Gavotte are quite cheeky. She plays the Gigue of the D minor lightly and dives straight into the Chaconne, which she keeps moving along.

Working in the Barocksaal, Benediktbeuern, producer Jörg Moser matches the sound quite well despite using five engineers across such a long period. The playing, of a high standard, is occasionally didactic but mostly soars out of the lecture hall. Waterman’s notes deserve art leather binding but, alas, presentation is modest.