Bach: Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001 for Solo Violin
Bach: Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002 for Solo Violin
Bach: Sonata No. 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003 for Solo Violin
Bach: Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004 for Solo Violin
Bach: Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005 for Solo Violin
Bach: Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006 for Solo Violin
There are a few world-class musicians that, despite my best efforts, I have never managed to hear perform live. Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov had been one of them until last month at Aix-en-Provence’s Festival de Pâques (Yes, I will travel to break the curse), Argentine pianist Martha Argerich will probably remain one of them until next season at Carnegie Hall (I am keeping fingers and toes solidly crossed), and Korean violinist Kyung Wha Chung finally got off the list last Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, where she not so incidentally had won the Leventritt Competition exactly 50 year earlier.
Moreover, maybe to make sure that this significant anniversary would go straight down to history, the former child prodigy turned living legend had decided to go ahead and tackle no smaller feat than Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. Widely considered the pinnacle of the violin repertoire, those six pieces are a daunting challenge for the soloist and a priceless treat for the audience.
However, it turns out that sometimes you gotta earn your treat, which I found out the hard way on Thursday when, after a particularly hectic day at work, I had a particularly hectic trip uptown that included an endless wait on an R train (No big surprise there), a desperate search for an available cab, a wild ride in the cab I eventually found (I had foolishly neglected to ask the driver to get me there on time AND alive), and a final mad dash on 57th Street to Carnegie Hall, where I finally arrived, with an empty stomach and a full bladder, four full minutes before the start of the concert. But one has to be grateful for the small things, n'est-ce-pas?
You'd think that someone who has made her professional debut when she was 9 years old with the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and has been forced into retirement from performing over 10 years ago due to a finger injury may be tempted to rest on her laurels and eat bonbons all day, but Kyung Wha Chung is clearly not that type of musician. Cutting an endearingly petite figure on the vast stage, she soldiered on for three hours and bravely delivered, sometimes with a few technical hiccups on the way, but always with unwavering commitment, some of the most stunning music out there.
By turns happily smiling at the rock star ovations greeting her every time she appeared, openly feisty when she playfully yet authoritatively shushed the enthusiastic clapping that erupted after her rapid-fire Corrente during the B-Minor Partita, and instinctively grimacing at her fleeting mistakes, she genuinely played from the heart and effortlessly had every audience member root for her.
There were many special moments, including – unsurprisingly – the five movements from the mighty D-Minor Partita, which were performed with plenty of emotional involvement and confident virtuosity all the way to her take-no-prisoners approach to the epic Chaccone. Among others stood out a stirring Sarabande from the B-Minor Partita, a remarkable rendition of the arrestingly long and complex Fugue from the C-Major Sonata, followed by an exquisite Largo, and a delightfully light-on-its-feet Gavotte from the E-Major Partita.
Once the marathon over, she sat down on the stool behind her just as the audience spontaneously rose for a long and heart-felt standing ovation. On Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, Kyung Wha Chung was back and conquered again.