J.S. Bach & Pärt: Works for Violin & Chamber Orchestra

J.S. Bach & Pärt: Works for Violin & Chamber Orchestra

Something stirred within when four-year-old Arabella Steinbacher first played the slow movement of J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor. She discovered the piece in one of her Suzuki Violin School volumes and navigated its twists and turns with her father at the piano. The experience proved life-changing. “I had this deep feeling of there being no limit, of being somewhere I felt so safe,” she tells Apple Music. “I was just a little child so I didn’t know what it might mean. But I knew I really wanted to continue doing this­­—I wanted to make music because I was addicted to this feeling.” Almost half a lifetime later and with around two dozen albums to her name, the German violinist has finally recorded Bach’s A minor Concerto. While Steinbacher followed tradition by coupling it with the composer’s two other surviving violin concertos, the E major and the Double Concerto in D minor, she followed her heart to frame them with two pieces by Arvo Pärt: Fratres and the equally enigmatic Spiegel im Spiegel. Steinbacher’s recording, made in company with fellow violinist Christoph Koncz and members of the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, blends extraordinary intensity with rare tenderness. Its emotional honesty sounds deeply personal, almost confessional. “I was very lucky to have the chance over the years to record concertos which I really wanted to record, most of them with large orchestras,” notes the violinist. “And now, after the pandemic and becoming a mother, I felt it would be wonderful to record something where I could just enjoy the inner calmness and share it with others through this music. There’s something so healing about it.” The music of Bach and Pärt may differ in style, Steinbacher says, but it occupies common ground in spirit. “I thought they sat very well together because of their spiritual and sacred energy. Of course, they’re completely different musically and it feels very different to play both composers. But in the end, what their music does to us as listeners, what it does to me as a player, is so similar.” The effect was magnified during sessions held in the Church of Peter and Paul in the idyllic rural village of Gönningen, around 30 miles south of Stuttgart. “There was a wonderful atmosphere in this church. It was the perfect place to record this kind of music. It was summertime, but we had stormy weather with heavy rain and thunder. We were recording Spiegel im Spiegel and had to stop for one and a half hours because it was raining so hard. It was almost as if it had to be like that—afterwards we were even more in the flow, connected to nature...it was very magical. It was interesting how we grew together during the recording: the album really felt like we had made a spiritual journey together.” Arabella Steinbacher’s Pärt interpretations, among the slowest on record, play tricks with clock time, speeding by in places, embracing eternity in others. “Time is really something very strange,” she says. “When making the recording, time felt so different with each piece. Fratres was fascinating because all the players must move together in one direction, but keep completely calm, to distance yourself from every disturbing thought, otherwise the music is immediately destroyed. And this is a big challenge because just looking at the notes on the page, you think, ‘Ah, it’s actually not so difficult to play.’ But to keep that focus until the very end—it’s like meditation.”

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