Michelle Ross’ Bach Solo CD Debut

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

As with many of today’s young violinists, Michelle Ross pursues a multitude of interests, ranging from traditional repertoire to improvising, as well as composing and multi-media collaborations. She garnered recent attention by performing Bach’s unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas in non-traditional venues. Ross describes her relationship to these works as a “life long journey”, and has chosen them for her debut CD release, a rather cheeky gambit, considering that the catalog contains numerous classic recorded versions that continue to stare down each and every newcomer.

That said, Ross’ Bach splits the difference between modern-day “traditional” interpretations (Nathan Milstein, Arthur Grumiaux, Itzhak Perlman, Uto Ughi) and leaner, minimum-vibrato period performances that either employ original instruments or are historically informed (Isabelle Faust, John Holloway, Sergiu Luca). You readily notice this in the long lines of the G minor sonata’s Adagio, in the fleet and conversationally-oriented Fugue of the C major, and in the Partita Sarabandes.

Virtuoso showpieces like the B minor Partita Presto Double and the E major Partita Preludio are less about surface bravura than uncovering implied melodic threads and cross rhythms. In other words, musical intelligence and a genuine quest for style governs Ross’ approach, although she sometimes conveys her insights too earnestly.

For example, her dynamic contrasts and textural layering of the G minor sonata Siciliana sectionalizes the music’s natural flow, in contrast to violinists like Julia Fischer or Isabelle Faust who employ even shorter phrase groupings. She doesn’t command the sheer beauty and variety of timbre we hear in James Ehnes’ reference recording, although her voicing of the fugues reveals keen polyphonic awareness.

The delicacy and control with which Ross separates the A minor sonata Andante’s accompaniment and melody truly impresses, while the D minor Partita’s monumental chaconne moves in long, pliable arcs that enhance the overall drama and illuminate the music’s extraordinary harmonic terrain. No doubt this release represents a significant achievement for an interesting and serious-minded violinist, and I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Album Title: Discovering Bach
Reference Recording: Ehnes (Analekta); Milstein (DG)

  • Michelle Ross (violin)

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