First published in The Herald on 22 September, 2014
All violinists have to confront Bach at some point or other: the composer’s six partitas and sonatas are the bedrock of the instrument’s solo repertoire and the benchmark for generations of great players. Polish violinist Bartosz Woroch, born in 1984, devised his late-night Lammermuir Festival recital around the first of the sonatas: the dark G-minor, with its searching Adagio and fitful Presto finale. Around it he programmed two 20th century works, both also in G-minor, both directly inspired by Bach’s sonata.
He began with a full-throttle, brawny account Eugene Ysaye’s First Sonata, full of fire but a little relentless. Woroch was leader of the Poznan Philharmonic from 2002-2008 (dates that, if you do the maths, made him outrageously young for the post) and his orchestral experience shows in his unfussy, forthright attack. The fluidity of his playing is refreshing and his sound is wonderfully rich and uninhibited, but in such an intimate setting – Haddington’s Trinity Church is petite, its acoustic warm and immediate – he could have afforded a little more attention to contour. To paraphrase the great Hungarian violinist Sandor Vegh, he could have spoken, not shouted.
This was especially true in the Bach. Woroch’s performance of the First Sonata was hearty and robust but not especially nuanced, with an anguished Adagio, a thick-set Fugue and a blistering finale. He was at his best in the Chaconne from Bartok’s Sonata for solo violin. Written in the early 1940s for Yehudi Menuhin and infused with a fierce Hungarian folk spirit, this is music that demands the scale and hot-blooded drama that Woroch gave it.