Few violinists boast the chops -- and stamina -- to charge their way through a complete cycle of Bach's Unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas in a single recital and still sound fresh and energized after 2 1/2 hours of the toughest music in the repertoire. Fewer still possess Nicholas Kitchen's skill at teasing out the most arresting features in these scores and keeping phrasing supple and forward-driven -- as he displayed at his Library of Congress performance on Saturday afternoon.
Sewing-machine rhythms and fatigue-induced sags in intonation were happily absent from the program. And if there were the occasional measures when Kitchen's technical fluency faltered a bit, it was within the first few moments of a new work, as he accustomed himself to a new violin: A unique feature of this recital was the selection of different violins from the Library of Congress collection to play the six works in Bach's set.
All the instruments came from the fecund period of violin-making in Cremona, Italy, during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Though timbral differences among them were mostly subtle, the elegant, sweet-toned "Goldberg" Guarneri (employed in the aristocratic First Sonata and exuberant Third Partita) and the dark-hued "Brookings" Amati (tailor-made for the troubled musings of the Second Partita) proved memorable.
Kitchen's spoken intros to each piece were substantive and delivered with low-key affability. And -- a practice unique in my concertgoing experience -- Kitchen read Bach's autograph score off a laptop, while the score was projected on a screen for the audience to follow, a splendid idea.