The Violin’s Delight

A garden of pleasure
Plamena Nikitassova violin, Julian Behr theorbo, Matthias Müller violone, Jörg-Andreas Bötticher harpsichord & organ
67:39
Claves Records 50-1727

Bulgarian violinist Plamena Nikitassova’s name has appeared on concert programmes and CD listings that I’ve seen but this is the first time I have heard her play solo. Hopefully it will not be the last! In a recital ranging from music by Biber, Muffat and Walther to unknowns like Lizkau and Döbel, she dispenses virtuosity with ease (all the more astonishing, given the fact that she plays off the shoulder), making the original Stainer she plays sing sweetly over its entire range – even when it’s pretending to be two violins! She is well supported by her colleagues (Bötticher also gives a fine performance of a toccata by Kerll, keeping in with the slightly crazy character of the stylus phantasticus). The use of a chromatic harpsichord with extra keys means that the enharmonic shifts in the Muffat violin sonata are not quite that… over each of the joins there is a “realignment” of the underlying tonality; it is an interesting insight into how 17th-century tuning systems might have worked, but what did musicians without a chromatic harpsichord do? Just play “out of tune”?
Nikitissova’s interpretation of the Passacaglia that brings Biber’s “Mystery Sonatas” to a close is similarly personal; some bars felt so expansive that an extra beat have been added to the music, while some seemed a little short; at one point, she even adds a cadenza. None of this, of course, is beyond what Biber and his contemporaries might have done with the music, and my reaction is perhaps more reflective of the fact that we (dare I single out Anglo-Saxons here?) like our baroque music to be “just so”, and these performances are forcing me out of my comfort zone. And, if they are, is that such a bad thing?

Brian Clark

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