CD Review: Jennifer Koh's Bach and Beyond Part 1

Jennifer Koh
Newark Star Ledger

By Ronni Reich

The first in a three-part series of recordings exploring connections between Bach and music written over the past 100 years, Jennifer Koh’s new offering shows her distinctive voice over a range of styles.

Each piece she plays is either an iconic sonata or partita by the baroque master or in some way linked to his work. Missy Mazzoli’s lyrical, expansive “Dissolve, O My Heart,” for example, takes its title from Bach’s Saint John Passion but evokes the Chaconne from his Partita No. 2.

Koh consistently dives wholeheartedly into her material and plays with decisive articulation and a full, focused tone. She maintains long musical lines and is notably smooth and effortless through the double stops of the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s Partita No. 3.

The mood shifts from bright vigor to dark fury as a melody from that work leads into Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2. In its Dies Irae variation, she plays with a soft-edged sound, like a singer using breathy tones for effect. Koh also gives an accomplished performance of Kaija Saariaho’s fitful “Nocturne.”