Classical CD Reviews

BACH: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin – Cecylia Arzewski, violin – Bridge (2 CDs)

Bach as he should be played, by someone who has loved him all her life.

Published on November 3, 2012

BACH: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin – Cecylia Arzewski, violin – Bridge (2 CDs)

BACH: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin – Cecylia Arzewski, violin – Bridge 9358 (2 CDs), 2:03:42 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

1990 was a nervous year for Atlanta Symphony Orchestra patrons. After the departure of concertmaster William Preucil, who had increasingly involved commitments to his Cleveland Quartet, and eventually concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, a new face was seen in the Atlanta ensemble, that of Cecylia Arzewski, former assistant at the Boston Symphony where she was resident for 17 years, and of a few years at the Cleveland Orchestra. Preucil was a prize and everyone knew it—he stepped in after William Steck left for the top spot at the National Symphony. Atlanta would also lose second violinist Martin Chalifour five years after Arzewski arrived to the concertmaster position of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But Preucil’s days were limited at Atlanta—the man was simply too good to stay too long, and had many other things to accomplish.  Arzewski was an unknown, as were women in the concertmaster role in general at that time—there were only two other women in that position in the United States.

They needn’t have worried—over the next 18 years she became an iconic figure in the Atlanta area, and one of the most respected people of any gender in her position in the country. She was allowed one major concerto performance each of her years in Atlanta, and remained active in the local and international chamber music scenes as well. A few years ago she retired from the orchestra to pursue teaching, chamber music, solo performances, and a more quiet and interior private life. She also decided to begin performing the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, works she had long ago been attracted to from her early years and studies with the legendary Boston Symphony concertmaster Joseph Silverstein.

Arzewski is not like your common concertmaster, often technically brilliant but not as imaginative as a solo artist; she is every bit the soloist when needs be, and her playing sparkles with intelligence and great individuality. Sometimes I hear the mechanical pyrotechnics of Heifetz, with whom she had some studies, the suavity of Grumiaux, but mostly the consistent and unwavering deliberateness and high emotion of Henryk Szeryng. The great Chaconne from the Second Partita is beautifully crafted, while the even greater Fuga from the Second Sonata is done with strength and a resolute sense of purpose, all the while allowing Bach’s wonderful sense of melody and drama to come forth in full flower. The American Academy of Arts and Letters serves as the perfect venue for Arzewski’s svelte Mantua Guarneri sound, and the recording is second to none for standard CD recording. I haven’t heard such perfection in these pieces since Lara St. John’s top-of-the-line release, and I have heard a lot recently. This is one of my top releases of the year.

—Steven Ritter




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