Whilst still at Weimar Bach had assimilated the Venetian concerto style by transcribing concertos by Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741), and all his surviving violin concertos make use of the Vivaldian three-movement form and elements of Vivaldi’s standard ritornello structure. The first movement of the Violin Concerto in A minor (BWV1041) is a typical example of this: the form is based on an alternation of a tutti ritornello with episodes, where the solo instrument predominates and introduces virtuoso new material. The central Andante takes as its basis an ostinato theme, heard throughout the movement in the bass instruments (and at one point taken over by the violas), whilst the remaining strings provide an accompaniment to the soloist’s expressive, winding melody. In the last movement Bach combines fugal writing with ritornello form: the ritornello is in itself a complete fugal exposition which contrasts very effectively with the solo episodes. These range from the lyrical to a passage of ‘bariolage’ in the last episode, where the soloist rapidly alternates between open and stopped strings to produce broken chords. In this case the use throughout the passage of an open E string, sounding much brighter than the other stopped strings, and itself the dominant of A minor, makes for an exciting build-up into the final complete ritornello. For this last movement, a return to Bach’s manuscript produced a different bowing to the usual slurred-in-threes: this considerably lightens the texture, and has been included in this performance.
from notes by Robert King © 1989