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While at one point Bach’s music for solo violin was seen as a unique contribution to the violin repertoire, it is now recognised that it is part of a mainstream tradition probably begun in 1662 with the publication of a set of sonatas for solo violin by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and rapidly imitated and developed by a host of 17th- and early 18th-century composers. It is clear from these 1696 works by Westhoff that the solo violin sonata was already in an advanced state of refinement, and he was able to contribute his natural sense of melody along with an aspiration towards polyphonic textures and chordal underpinning. From his base at the musically rich baroque court of Dresden, Westhoff ranged widely throughout Europe, earning plaudits for his virtuosity on the violin. He left very few works, some like the Sonatas of 1696 in a unique copy and that incomplete – the damaged sixth sonata is replaced on this recording with a work published in Paris ten years earlier. Plamina Nikitassova has made a considerable reputation for herself specialising in the violin music of the 17th century and has allowed two German treatises to inform her playing and bowing techniques, holding the violin ‘below her left breast’ and using the thumb to help tension the bow hairs. According to the detailed programme notes by Dr Peter Wollny, the clear instructions in these treatises pose challenges, the solutions to which have given Nikitassova new insights into the early baroque violin and its repertoire. The results are certainly very pleasing and convincing, and there is a freedom and lightness of tone in her playing which certainly suits this wonderfully spontaneous and imaginative music.
D. James Ross