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Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin BWV 1001-1006
General Discussions - Part 1

New recording of Sonatas and Partitas by Gidon Kremer

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (October 5, 2005):
The ECM label is about to release this month a new recording of the 6 Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin by Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer. (EMI Records) )
I never heard his first 1980 recording.

I recently purchased the Monica Huggett recording, and can't stop listening to it. It's extraordinary. All pieces are not on the same level, of course, but I think the Sonata n1 is particularly outstanding, as well as the Ciaccona of the partita n2. The recording technique is one of the best I ever heard.

 

Piano accompaniment to solo violin works

Jan Hanford wrote (April 7, 2006):
Is there more than one recording of the Bach sonatas and partitas for solo violin with piano accompaniment by Robert Schumann?

I am only aware of the one on MDG by Benjamin Schmid, violin and Lisa Smirnova, piano and I don't like it very much.

These works come to mind because a U.S. television show called The 4400 used some Bach in a recent episode and it was the Gigue from Partita No. 2 BWV 1004. Then on the show another actor started playing along on the piano, making the Schumann accompanied version the one they were using. Now that is a really strange use of Bach but I think any exposure to Bach in mainstream media is a good thing.

They did not use the MDG recording so they either recorded their own or there's another recording out there that I haven't come across.

 

Violin Sonatas & Partitas - JHolloway

Pedro Ulissipo wrote (December 29, 2006):
Has anybody listened to John Holloway's newly released Sonatas andPartitas for violin solo? Any views on this version?

many thanks

Harry W. Crosby wrote (December 30, 2006):
From where I sit, a listener and aficionado surely, but no violinist or even musician in any other way, I have collected and judged a number of recorded performances of these sonatas and partitas. Early on, my odds-on favorite was Arthur Grumiaux, but I am also an audio devotee and when digital took over, I was not satisfied with my old disks. In the CD era, I have owned -- and believe me, played repeatedly -- Itzhak Perlman, Gidon Kremer (both 1980 and 2005), Hilary Hahn, Rachel Podger, and now, briefly John Holloway.

I say briefly, because I simply cannot relate to Holloway's interpretation, cannot make it the same kind of personal vision, dedicated, insightful, revelatory, inspiring that I find in both powerful Kremer versions (which are fascinatingly different) or that of the alas only three of six parts recorded by the 16-year-old Hilary Hahn, lovely, graceful, poetic, an inspiring insight to contemplate, this profound rapport between old master and fledgling taking wing.

Holloway simply did not work for me --- and I am a fan of some of his work, notably Biber. You asked, don Pedro, so here is one opinion.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 2, 2007):
< Has anybody listened to John Holloway's newly released Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo? Any views on this version? >
I'm enjoying listening to the web samples. Thanks for mentioning the existence of this recording -- I might have to get it sometime. (But my favorite, so far, remains Ingrid Matthews's set....)

Do the booklet notes in the Holloway set explain the different bass note he plays at 23 seconds into the first movement of the G minor (disc 1, track 1)? Some odd edition, or maybe just a reading error or production error? The questionable note is an E-flat making a Phrygian cadence into the D, but Holloway plays an E natural there. So does Monica Huggett, same spot, same questionable note played as natural rather than flat: which is why I'm inclined to believe it's an edition thing (and some deliberate choice) rather than misreading. Huggett's is the first bass note heard in the sample here: http://www.amazon.fr/J-S-Bach-Sonatas-Partitas/dp/B00018ZRYA

Also worth noting is that this G minor is notated with only one flat in the signature (17th century style with a Dorian tendency) rather than two, and any E-flat would need to be indicated by an accidental. Personally, I think that that bass note has to be E-flat whether the accidental is missing or not, else it would make an uncharacteristic cross-relation against the E-flat that comes right after it, an octave higher....

Coincidentally, last week I listened several times to Yamashita's recording of these sonatas and partitas, played on guitar. Enjoyable, but some of his tempos are so blisteringly fast, and so strongly/evenly articulated, that it made me think I was listening to bluegrass banjo or something. On the other hand, it's loads of fun. I'm not sure if it's out of print or not, but it's still advertised at: http://www.gspguitar.com/ (search "Yamashita Bach")

 

Lara St John's new S&P

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 27, 2007):
Lots of hype about the new set:
http://www.larastjohn.com/newsite/audio.htm

The samples I listened to all seemed very fast, but I could get accustomed to it: Amazon.com

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 27, 2007):
[To Bradley Lehman] I haven't heard this yet, but she's good - her concertos album is top-notch.

 

Milstein notes problem

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 24, 2008):
I picked up the other day the Sonatas and Partitas with Milstein which obviously do not require my comment. I do have a problem with the short bio in the recent EMI Classics issue of the Partitas. It says that in 1934, at a concert he gave at the Leipzig Gewandhaus with Bruno Walter as conductor, Walter had suggested to Milstein that he play a Bach mvt. as an encore.

Milstein gave the Adagio of the G-minor sonata and, overcome by the experience of playing Bach in Leipzig and in that hall, he simply couldn't stop until he had played the whole sonata.

There is something strange in this story.

From everything I know about the disciple and friend of Gustav Mahler, his main disciple, Bruno Walter was not welcome in Germany after 1933 and certainly did not perform there but lived and worked in Austria until in 1938 that was no longer acceptable either.

I also assume that Nathan Milstein was likewise Jewish and would not have been desired to perform in Leipzig in 1934. I am assuming that either the year is too late or the story is apocryphal.Anyone know something about this story?

 

BWV 1001-6, sonatas and partitas for solo violin

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 6, 2009):
Beginning a few minutes ago, and ongoing until completion about a couple hours from now (2:00 PM EST, 1900 UT) - The first complete recordings of BWV 1001-06, from 1934-36 by Yehudi Menuhin, when he was 18-20 years old. WNRB-FM or www.whrb.org.

 

Monthly Discussion April 2009: Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin BWV 1001-1006

John Pike wrote (April 2, 2009):
BACH'S SOLO VIOLIN SONATAS AND PARTITAS BWV 1001-1006

The music for discussion this month is the three solo violin sonatas and three solo violin partitas BWV 1001-1006. These are:

Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001
Partita No.1 in B minor, BWV 1002
Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003
Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004
SonNo. 3 in C major, BWV 1005
Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006

Website resources: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV1001-1006.htm

Past discussions
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/MD/MD-BWV1004-Chaconne.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV1001-1006-Hahn.htm

Introduction

These works are the pinnacle of the violinist's repertoire. They contain some of the most beautiful and most musically and technically demanding music written for violin. Studying them is a lifetime's work. The jewel in the crown is arguably the Chaconne, a unique set of 64 variations, which concludes the Partita in D minor.

Forkel (1802) praised the works and Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann in 1877 "To my mind, the chaconne is one of the most wonderful and mysterious pieces in all music. Using a system (of notes) for a small instrument, the man composes a whole world of the most profound ideas and powerful feelings".

The autograph manuscript, a fair copy in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, P967, "Sei Solo a Violino senza Basso accompagnato Libro Primo" is dated 1720. (The Libro Secondo was apparently the six Cello suites).

The following arrangements are also known:

BWV 1001/2 = BWV 1000 (Fugue in G minor for Lute) and BWV 539/2 (an Organ fugue)

BWV 1003 = BWV 964 (s. Anh. II, S.465)

BWV 1005/1 = BWV 968 (s. Anh. II, S.465)

BWV 1006 = BWV 1006a (Suite in E for Lute), c. 1736

BWV 1006/1 = BWV 29/1 (1731) and BWV 120a/4

The Theme of the Fugue from BWV 1005(/2) is apparently developed from the hymn melody "Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott".

The three sonatas each comprise 4 movements alternating slow-fast-slow-fast, in the Italian "Sonata da Chiesa" form, the first movement serving as a "prelude" to the extended fugues that follow, and which include both polyphonic and single line passages.

The three partitas ("Partias" in the autograph manuscript) comprise several dance movements each. Geck states that they "adhere with some deviations to the traditional sequence of allemande, courante, saraband, and gigue but are very different from one another in the details of how they are put together..."

In the B minor partita, each dance movement is followed by a "double", a simple variation of the movement before, usually faster. The last movement is a Tempo di Borea, rather than a Gigue.

The D minor partita ends with the Chaconne, 64 variations on a single, open-ended four-bar phrase built around the descending tetrachord (as used by Biber in his Passacaglia). Two sections in the minor enclose a middle section in the major.

The E major Partita, unlike most of the movements in the other two partitas, which have an Italian designation (apart from the Sarabande of No.1) includes dances of mostly French origin - a Prelude, a Loure, a Gavotte en Rondeau, 2 minuets, a Bouree and a Gigue.

The works include multiple stopping, polyphonic sections and arpeggios (in the Chaconne).

Wolff states that there is evidence (earlier versions of the pieces) that Bach started composing these works in Weimar. The works are conceptually indebted to Johann Paul von Westhoff's 1696 publication of solo violin partitas, the first of its kind; and since Westhoff, one of the pre-eminent violinists of his time, played in the Weimar court capelle until his death in 1705, Bach would have met him in 1703. Peter Williams speculates that there were more solo violin compositions from Central Europe than are now documented, only hinted at by Biber's Passacaglia of c. 1676 and by Pisendel's solo sonata of c.1716. He also remarks that Bach's sonatas veer more towards melody that those of Westhoff, but are also more harmonically rich. Boyd remarks that there are works for solo violin by JJ Walther (c1650-1717) as well, and Williams notes that Telemann published six sonatas for violin solo in 1715, dedicated to the young Prince Johann Ernst in Weimar.

Geck states that a very careful copy of the sonatas (P268) in Anna Magdalena Bach's hand between 1727 and 1731 was most likely prepared for sale, although Williams postulates that it may also have been intended as gifts for pupils of Sebastian. Geck states that it was commissioned by the Wolfenbuettel court musician Georg Heinrich Ludwig Schwanberger, who was living in Leipzig in 1727-8, apparently in order to study with Bach, and who, according to Williams, wrote the title page on Anna Magdalena's copy of the six solos. Geck also comments that, "in the autograph manuscript, Bach seems to have wanted to transcribe the violinist's bowing motion directly into notes on the page. It is rare that a composer writes notes that are calligraphically perfect and also communicate the feeling of the music at the same time. Melody and harmony in one - that is the message of the six solos, which constitute as well an encyclopedia of the violin: prelude, fugue, concerto, aria, variation, dance - all are performable on it."

Joel Lester's book concentrates on each movement of the G minor sonata in detail, and covering the other two sonatas en route, before discussing the three partitas, including a section on the Chaconne.

Helga Thoene has written three analytical studies of these works to date. She examines the use of gematria in the music and of embedded chorale tunes. She suggests that the Chaconne was written as a "Tombeau" for Bach's recently deceased first wife, Maria Barbara. Geck, however, argues that this is "speculative at best". Thoene states that "the three sonatas represent, as their musical and extra-musical characteristics show, in many types of coded form, respectively Christmas (incarnation), Easter (the Passion and Resurrection) and Pentecost (the sending out of the Holy Spirit)".

Peter Williams comments that the term "Partita" (actually Partia in the autograph manuscript) is misleading, and the term "suite" would be better. He also comments that the notation is less literal than in most of the keyboard works, with notes often being given a length not possible in performance. He says "Whether or how well Bach played such solos himself is not known, though his violin playing is unlikely to have been neglected at Weimar, and could have developed very well at this time, something the Obituary authors are unlikely to have known."

Boyd comments that the intended recipient is unknown, but Pisendel, JB Volumier and Joseph Spiess have all been conjectured in this role.

Recordings

I have the following recordings: Julia Fischer (my current favourite), Hilary Hahn (incomplete), Perlman, Grumiaux and Milstein. All have much to recommend them but I think Fischer leads them by some way; I find her musicality and taste most attractive, and she does not allow anything of herself get in the way of the music. Hahn is also very good in these respects.


Bibliography

Joel Lester "Bach's Works For Solo Violin - Style, Structure, Performance", Oxford

Helga Thoene "Ciaccona - Tanz oder Tombeau?"

"Sonata A - Moll - Eine wortlose Passion"

"Sonata C - Dur - Lob sey Gott dem Heiligen Geist"

Ed. Butt "The Cambridge Companion to Bach"

"Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach" [Oxford University Press, 1999], ed Boyd

BWV Kleine Ausgabe

Christoph Wolff "Johann Sebastian Bach - The Learned Musician"

Martin Geck "Johann Sebastian Bach - Life and Work" and "Bach" in the Life and Times series, Haus publishing

Peter Williams "JS Bach - A Life in Music" and "The Life of Bach" (CUP)

Josh Klasinski wrote (April 2, 2009):
[To John Pike] Interesting info. The only recording of the A minor partita-Chaconne that I have heard is Yehudi Menuhin's...I think that recording is also coupled with the dminor double v.concerto.

If memory serves, Menuhin's performance of the chaconne is very emotive and charged...is this considered a desert island recording?

Harry W. Crosby wrote (April 2, 2009):
John Pike's presentation is a gem, certainly for me who simply has not the time to do such research in even the most obvious and accessible places.

Anyhow, I am mad for these works, alas, my poor wife thinks me irrationally so. I own the Fischer and Hahn (the latter, sadly, incomplete) performances and I find both muy simpático indeed and have played them a lot, still do.

But my whole purpose today is, frankly, the promotion of a performance that has added a whole new dimension to my appreciation of these exquisite works: that of Helene Schmitt on the Alpha label, quite newly recorded. It is difficult for the amateur that I am to describe how different and powerful is her approach. She uses an excellent instrument, Italian from 1708, I believe; she is well recorded, and her performances, to me, are so powerful, thoughtful, and personal that I really encourage any enthusiasts for this music to at least sample her oeuvre.

Please don't get me wrong; I am not suggesting her as a replacement but as a partner to other favorites. However, make no mistake, Helene Schmitt provides a new element, a different vision that makes the views of Fischer and Hahn, for example, seem very close to each other --- and is a universe apart from, say, Heifetz, Perlman, or Kremer.

However, as Archie famously said, "chacun a son ragout!"

John Pike wrote (April 2, 2009):
[To Josh Klasinski] Yes, I saw one of his recordings of it on a TV documentary many years ago, recorded when he was still a teenager. I remember it as being very fine.

Peter Bright wrote (April 2, 2009):
[To John Pike, in response to his original message] My favourite, for quite some time, has been Rachel Podger's recording.Subtle and playful, yet she still manages to impart the 'darker' movements with necessary gravitas. Her approach could not be much more different than that of Grumiaux, yet both artists have much to offer in these works - just goes to show that with Bach there is definitely more than one way to skin a chicken...

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 2, 2009):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< But my whole purpose today is, frankly, the promotion of a performance that has added a whole new dimension to my appreciation of these exquisite works: that of Helene Schmitt on the Alpha label, quite newly recorded. It is difficult for the amateur that I am to describe how different and powerful is her approach. She uses an excellent instrument, Italian from 1708, I believe; she is well recorded, and her performances, to me, are so powerful, thoughtful, and personal that I really encourage any enthusiasts for this music to at least sample her oeuvre. >
On Harry's urging, a few months ago, I got one of Schmitt's two discs...and I concur with his assessment of its excellence. (I'll pick up the other one, eventually.) It joins my other favorite set: Ingrid Matthews.

Lara St John's is a great one on "modern" violin, but I haven't spent enough time with it to say much beyond that. I haven't heard Julia Fischer's.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (April 2, 2009):
I would like to add my thanks to John for his excellent introduction to these works.

I also echo Harry and Brad in their praise for Helene Schmitt. I was listening to her recording this morning. It is wonderful.

I have Laura St. John in BWV 1004 and 1005. I haven't listened to it in awhile. Will do that later in the week.

David Hitchin wrote (April 2, 2009):
Thanks to John Pike for a very useful introduction.

Like most (but not all) baroque works these were not intended to be played precisely as written (and in fact these CAN'T be played exactly as written), but the performer was expected to supply appropriate embellishments. Although I have no one particular favourite, there is one point which tends to determine my liking or otherwise of the whole set.

The Chaconne begins in d minor and becomes extremely tense before a beautiful moment when it moves into D major, a moment of simplicity and restfulness. I feel that this should be played with utter simplicity, but some performers don't think that there is enough going on, and add some ornamentation at that point - alas.

Philip Peters wrote (April 2, 2009):
Harry W. Crosby wrote:
< But my whole purpose today is, frankly, the promotion of a performance that has added a whole new dimension to my appreciation of these exquisite works: that of Helene Schmitt on the Alpha label, quite newly recorded. >
I like her recording as well, it's HIP more or less similar to those by Rachel Podger or Lucy van Dael that are also well worth having (and possibly Kuijken I though not Kuijken II which is disappointing IMO). But there is one recording that was really a revelation to me and that's the one by François Fernandez that I hardly ever see mentioned. Does anyone here know it? It's on Flora and was recorded in 2002. Fernandez has been a founding member of the excellent early music ensemble Ricercar. As for current non-HIP approaches there is Lara St.John (who a few years earlier was mainly known for posing on the cover of a recording wearing nothing but her violin).

I'm not a partisan for either HIPor non-HIP versions but as far as non-HIP goes I wouldn't want to be without St.John anymore than I would want to be without, say, Grumiaux or Milstein (etcetera etcera, this music is so rich that there are many valid interpretations possible and it is very well served with oodles of recordings of course)

John Pike wrote (April 3, 2009):
[To Nessie Russell] Many thanks for these recommendations. I will get them.

I agree with Peter that Rachel Podger is very fine. I had forgotten that one. I also forgot to mention 2 other recordings on baroque violin: Monica Huggett on Virgin; I am less keen on this recording since I find her gestures get in the way of the flow of the music for music for me. I greatly admire Christoph Poppen's recording of the Chaconne on the Morimur CD, which is based on Helga Thoene's views about the Chaconne being a Tombeau, with embedded Chorale tunes. I like his performance very much and I also enjoy the singing of the Hilliard Ensemble on that CD.

John Pike wrote (April 3, 2009):
Bradley Lehman wrote (of Helene Schmitt's recording):
< It joins my other favorite set: Ingrid Matthews. >
I have had Ingrid Matthews' set on my wish list since Brad first recommended it some years ago. I have finally taken the flunge. Thanks for the reminder, Brad!

Jens F. Laurson wrote (April 3, 2009):
John Pike's presentation of BACH'S SOLO VIOLIN SONATAS AND PARTITAS BWV 1001-1006:
< I have the following recordings: Julia Fischer (my current favourite), Hahn (incomplete), Perlman, Grumiaux and Milstein. >
1.) Many thanks to John for this presentation.

2.) Even greater thanks to those who replied and judiciously cut old messages out of the message-body instead of thoughtlessly letting the text trail. (For everyone receiving daily e-mail updates of these discussions, there is nothing more annoying than bad cut/paste and "quote" jobs. It makes it impossible to skim over the contributions and pick out what's good and what isn't.)

I hope using html code (as the yahoo-groups editor now allows and encourages) does not screw things up for those who read these in their e-mail inboxes.

3.) :

These works not only made the solo violin repertoire palatable to me (similar to what op.111 did to me for piano sonatas), but also any violin-heavy chamber work... so I hold them very dear to my heart.

If I had to chose one recording, it would be Nathan Milstein's second recording on DG. Fantastic how he goes through this work developing rhythmic inevitability that's something to behold... he's not afraid of the edges and hard corners... but his tone remains solid, leathery.

For HIP playing, my far and away favorite remains Rachel Podger.
(http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2004/07/dip-your-ears-no-2.html)

Grumiaux (on Philips Amazon.com), despite my admiration for him elsewhere, bores me.

My first recording of this was Perlman (on EMI Amazon.com), to whom I didn't quite respond. I've since dismissed it--because Perlman's playing generally speaking ("Violin with a smile") seems to go against everything I'd want in these works... but upon re-listening I found it much better than my opinion of it.

Shlomo Mintz (on DG Gold Amazon.com, otherwise part of this DG box Amazon.com with all the solo works) turns in the most mellifluous performance I've ever heard... effortless and lyrical.

Julia Fischer's (Pentatone Amazon.com) is the best recent release that I've heard... not as characteristic as Mintz or Milstein (somewhere between the flow of the former and the vigor of the latter... probably leaning in Mintz' direction), solidly "modern", silken, and in great sound.

Gidon Kremer's second recording (ECM Amazon.com) is very personal -- but his musicality outweighs his wilfullness. Not recommended, necessarily, but enjoyable.

More "intellectual" (unfussy, unsmiling?) are the two Tetzlaff recordings. The earlier (on Virgin Amazon.com) is fine--but not special... the second (on Hänssler Amazon.com) is hugely impressive in its rigor, but not a heart-warming affair.

Just the first Partita & Suite are included on Kavakos' Stravinsky recording. That's too incomplete to be a draw for Bach-lovers (though the disc is great for other reasons and should be sampled), but makes one want to hear more. (http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2005/02/dip-your-ears-no-28.html)

Whatever other versions I have (there must be a good few more) don't come to mind, currently... which is commentary in-and-of-itself.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 4, 2009):
Josh Klasinski wrote:
< Interesting info. The only recording of the A minor partita-Chaconne that I have heard is Yehudi Menuhin's...I think that recording is also coupled with the dminor double v.concerto. If memory serves, Menuhin's performance of the chaconne is very emotive and charged...is this considered a desert island recording? >
I charge Mr. Menuhin with rank discrimination against JSB.

If Mr. Menuhin was able to record the Elgar concerto (1932) under the conduction of the composer, why could he not equally record at least one Bach concerto under the conduction of JSB?

Answer that if you can!

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 6, 2009):
Bach BWV 1001-1006, Solo Violin


Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
> I charge Mr. Menuhin with rank discrimination against JSB.
If Mr.
Menuhin was able to record the Elgar concerto (1932) under the conduction of the composer, why could he not equally record at least one Bach concerto under the conduction of JSB?
Answer that if you can! <
(1) Because Bach is long since passed on (dead).

(2) Perhaps Bach lives on in a special place, where he is supremely indifferent to the details of the performance of his works. He may take some pleasure that we still enjoy them, or he he may not give a fig. Who knows?

Ed Jeter wrote (April 6, 2009):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thanks Ed,

Menuhin worked with Elgar just two years before the passing of the latter. As mentioned he missed Bach by hundreds of years. Years ago I was in a hospital bed recovering from a crash and listening to the local classical music station and Yehudi was playing the Elgar Salut d'amour like a demon possessed. When I was able to get to a record store I was a little dissapointed that he looked so "civilized" on the CD cover. I was expecting one of the "fauves". I will now seek out his Bach BWV Early Mille set, Solo Violin.

John Pike wrote (April 28, 2009):
Bach solo violin works

The month of discussion on these works is drawing to an end. I'm grateful to those who recommended Helene Schmitt and Ingrid Matthews. I bought both and there is much to enjoy in them, although ultimately I didn't particularly get on with them. I also got Lara StJohn but haven't got round to listening to her yet.

My number 1 choice overall remains Julia Fischer, with Rachel Podger my favourite baroque violin version.

I'd like to say what i didn't like about Ingrid Matthews and Helene Schmitt (notwithstanding their qualities) in a moment, but first a reminder about a topic Brad discussed on this list many years ago, perhaps before many current members joined. He introduced us to the concepts of equipolent and gestural performances. Equipolent performances do everything exactly on the page. in short, they are bland and boring. gestural performances, by contrast, use a variety of mechanisms to bring interest to the music, to shape it and interpret what is on the page. They bring to life to the bare notes and other markings on the page. Gestures are a fundamental part of the harpsichordist's (and ideally every musician's) skill box. I hope that's right; I'm sure Brad will correct me if I'm wrong.

As an example, I once hired a tape recording of the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080) on PIANO. I found it absolutely excruciating and can no longer remember the name of the artist concerned. it was boring in the extreme, with no dynamic variation or phrasing of interest. By contrast, I have many of Brad's performances on harpsichord and I like his playing very much indeed. His gestures are, to my ear at least, gentle and unobtrusive, bringing interest and an organic feeto the music, without disrupting overall shape, melodic line or rhythm. I also like Peter Watchorn's playing for similar reasons.

Unfortunately, this where I have to confess that some recordings which Brad admires i do not personally get on with. They include Bradley Brookshire's French suites (BWV 812-817) (although I like his Art of Fugue (BWV 1080)) and Ingrid matthews and Helene Schmitt in the solo violin works. The two latter recordings are very similar in many respects. For my taste, their gestures are too marked, excessive and obtrusive. They draw too much attention to themselves and spoil my enjoyment of the music, its melodic line and rhythm. There are sometimes extreme variations in tempi in the space of a few bars or even the same bar. Helene Schmitt often has a very detached style and some notes are shortened to less than the indicated length, while others are held longer than indicated. I feel this is just taking TOO much liberty with the music. This can sometimes cause notes to "stick out" harshly or abruptly, attracting disproportionate attention to themselves. I'm not calling for "Sanitised Bach" here, just being able to enjoy the music without finding my attention drawn to all those gestures. Parts of helene Schmitt's Chaconne are stunning but other parts are quite abrupt and harsh for my taste. My favourite recordings of the Gigue which precedes it allow the rhythmic tension to build up unremittingly until the final note, but Helene Schmitt has so many tempi fluctuations that I found the tension and emotional energy dissipated every few bars. The net effect is much less intense for me.

I prefer Schmitt to Matthews simply because the tone she produces is preferable. Matthews has quite a squeeky sound at times which, as Podger's and Schmitt's performances reveal (and the work of other baroque violinsts, such as Monica Huggett, Andrew Manze and Christoph Poppen), is not necessary on a baroque violin.

So, I'm sorry i didn't enjoy those two recordings as much as everyone else, but that's my personal taste.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (April 28, 2009):
John I appreciated your post and I'm only going to copy the part which most stood out for me.

>So, I'm sorry i didn't enjoy those two recordings as much as everyone else, but that's my personal taste.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. So often on these lists we forget this.

I find a performance which sticks completely to the score incredibly boring. On the other hand a performance which over does the gestures bothers me.

Ed Jeter wrote (April 28, 2009):
[To John Pike] I had not seen the word equipolent (or equipollent) used in discussing musical performances previously. In logic of course it means that two statements can be derived from each other and in mathematics that when two sets are equipollent every member of one set has an equivalent in the other set. Suppose this could apply when one set was the music the other set the musician. I agree with Brad in my preferences for moderately gestural performances.

At any rate, thank you for your evaluation of the performers mentioned.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 28, 2009):
Personal taste

Anne wrote (in response to Johns stimulating post):
>I find a performance which sticks completely to the score incredibly boring. On the other hand a >performance which over does the gestures bothers me. <
The BCW pages where Brad elaborates on his use of the term gestural, and selcts the novel usage (at least with respect to music) of equipollent as the contrasting term, are among the most enjoyable in the archives. As often seems to have happened in those days, several pages of discussion, often acrimonious and much of it by Brad, evolve to his concise, accurate, and useful summary and conclusion.

The concise statement represents the book, the availability (easily skipped if that is the personal choice) of the evolution of the statement is one of the reasons I find the BCW archive format superior (or at the very least, an equally valuable alternative) to a traditional publication.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 28, 2009):
< The BCW pages where Brad elaborates on his use of the term gestural, and selcts the novel usage (at least with respect to music) of equipollent as the contrasting term, are among the most enjoyable in the archives. As often seems to have happened in those days, several pages of discussion, often acrimonious and much of it by Brad, evolve to his concise, accurate, and useful summary and conclusion. >
Here's one where it's distilled: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV200-D.htm

Harry W. Crosby wrote (April 28, 2009):
This discussion of recorded performances of the Sonatas and Partitas illustrates for me, in a very down to earth (or, perhaps better soaring in the heavens) way, the marvels of the gift we have all received from Aryeh Oron --- Sir, please take a bow!

So what am I talking about? Well, no sooner had I submitted my endorsement of Helene Schmitt's rendition than I received, off site, a message from another member of our company recommending a recording of these works by François Fernandez on the Flora label. I tried to find it, could not, and this generous gentleman arranged to get one to me. Marvelous, and I mean it. Other than as a member of the Ricercar Consort, I knew not of M. Fernandez, but his take and execution of BWV 1001 to 1006 is a total winner. I cannot imagine that many of you would feel otherwise.

So, not only am I indebted to a site member for his recommendation and the disks, but also to our host-of-hosts, Mr. Oron. And, in a broader sense, to many others of you who have added so much to my knowledge and appreciation of Bach (and in a case or two, to a lot of more earthy things, also appreciated, but by other senses).

Thank you all, Harry W. Crosby

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (April 29, 2009):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, who would be some performers whose performances exemplify what you'recalling the "gestural" approach? I'm guessing Gould, Pogorelich, Stokowski, Kleiber, Toscanini as examples...but what would you say?

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 29, 2009):
James Atkins Pritchard wrote:
< Brad, who would be some performers whose performances exemplify what you're calling the "gestural" approach? I'm guessing Gould, Pogorelich, Stokowski, Kleiber, Toscanini as examples...but what would you say? >
Definitely not Toscanini! He was a literalist -- who tended to take the composer's score as holy writ, and to allow only few unwritten details into the interpretation. And Gould was more interested in going his own way than in taking contemporary performance practices (contemporary with the composer) seriously.

Serge Rachmaninov, Pablo Casals, Pieter Wispelwey, Thomas Fey, Bruce Haynes, Frans Brüggen, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Goebel/Musica Antiqua Köln, Enrico Baiano, Bradley Brookshire, Jordi Savall, Alfred Cortot, Antonio Barbosa, Willem Mengelberg, Mikhail Pletnev (but only when he's playing piano) are some of many I'd put on the "gestural" side: unashamedly shaping musical lines with plenty of rise and fall, internal variation, even some tempo variation, all in service of making the mutransparent and direct, as if it were being freshly improvised. Listen to Enrico Baiano's two discs of Scarlatti sonatas to hear the astounding things that can be done, in this interpretive direction. And those two "A Window in Time" Telarc discs of Rachmaninov's piano rolls.

John Pike wrote (April 29, 2009):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Serge Rachmaninov, Pablo Casals, Pieter Wispelwey, Thomas Fey, Bruce Haynes, Frans Brüggen, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Goebel/Musica Antiqua Köln, Enrico Baiano, Bradley Brookshire, Jordi Savall, Alfred Cortot, Antonio Barbosa, Willem Mengelberg, Mikhail Pletnev (but only when he's playing piano) are some of many I'd put on the "gestural" side: unashamedly shaping musical lines with plenty of rise and fall, internal variation, even some tempo variation, all in service of making the music transparent and direct, as if it were being freshly improvised. .......... >
I quoted a comment in an article I wrote yesterday which was partly about consultation skills and how a doctor employs them in a consultation. The quote comes from someone who is not a medical doctor and who was not writing specifically about doctors. It seems to me that the quote is as relevant to gestural performers as it is to doctors:
"A professional has a wide range of options to select from, and can move cleanly and elegantly amongst them". John Heron

That seems to me to be the skill in a gestural performance; being able to move cleanly and elegantly between different "tools", "all in the service of making the music transparent and direct, as if it were being freshly improvised".

James Atkins Pritchard wrote (April 29, 2009):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks very much, Brad.

 

Churchmen inveighed against the Chaconne

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (May 28, 2009):
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/arts/music/28sinf.html?_r=1&hpw

Don't get too excited.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 28, 2009):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] I was at that concert last night and it was FANTASTIC! :-) A friend invited me immediately after work and there was a mob outside the concert venue. I was expecting a small turn out, boy what a shock that was!

The dancers were just great too!

You know what was odd, I thought the Leclair was boring to the point of tears!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (May 28, 2009):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] I am wondering whether bc. this is called BachRecordings, you and others who attend such fascinating concerts don't tell us about them. I wish I had been at this one. It sounds great. Probably on Thurs. (tomorrow or today NY time) TNT will tell us his perspective on the radio (which, if I understood correctly) now starts at 6 (instead of 8) am. Too early for me and five hours of TNT or of weird music and/or unusual performances is simply too much.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (May 28, 2009):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< I am wondering whether bc. this is called BachRecordings, you and others who attend such fascinating concerts don't tell us about them. >
The Bach chaconne was definitely one of the best performed pieces on the program. I hope this doesn't sound sappy or corny, but the violin player was in tears at the end of the piece, it was a pretty moving experience for me as well: the intensity of the music overwhelms you. The Bertali chaconne was a fantastic piece as well. Then those dancers were so fantastic. I couldn't believe it was a 2 hour concert, the time flew by!

Thanks for posting about the concert again Yoel ;)

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 28, 2009):
Wired Radio [WAS: churchmen inveighed against the Chaconne]

>now starts at 6 (instead of 8) am. Too early for me and five hours of TNT or of weird music and/or unusual performances is simply too much.<
I suppose that rules out whrb.org (or 95.3 FM, near Cambridge USA), now in the process of airing all 36 volumes of the official Grateful Dead concert recordings (Dicks Picks) over six days, nearly continuous. Weird (not to confused with wired?), unusual, and too much? Bring it on!

The TNT (and associates) Bachfest is also a choice radio extravaganza to be sought out near year end, for others who may enjoy too much.

 

Viktoria Mullova's Bach

Jens F. Laurson wrote (June 3, 2009):
http://www.weta.org/fmblog/?p=563

New Releases: CDs
Viktoria Mullova's Bach

J.S.Bach, Sonatas & Partitas, Viktoria Mullova
Onyx 4040 (130:22), Released June 4th, 2009

Mullova's recording is big news and better yet: it's good news. In brief and thoughtful liner notes that peel right through to the essence of why she added hers to the long list of violinists' names on the Sonata & Partita roll call, she outlines her musical transformation as it relates to Bach. She has come from a decidedly old-school approach (she describes it as a sort of Russian robotic approach with continuous vibrato, sans liberties, and little articulation) to what is for all theoretical purposes a Historically Informed Performance account. She even plays with gut strings and a baroque bow, one or the other or both of which she has been doing for years in all repertoire where appropriate. (Her recordings of the Beethoven and Mendelssohn Concertos are on gut string and she uses the baroque setup for her recent Bach and Vivaldi recordings.) As with her latest Bach release and the Vivaldi concertos on Archiv, she is playing a 1750 Guadagnini (and a Walter Barbiero baroque bow) tuned to A=415, not her 1723 "Julius Falk" Stradivari.

[--> http://www.weta.org/fmblog/?p=563 ]

 

Bach solo violin works by Lara St John

John Pike wrote (June 9, 2009):
Many thanks to those who recommended this recording when we discussed these works a couple of months ago. I have now had a chance to listen to it a few times.

It is a pity the cover is so awful, with a windswept Lara flaunting herself beside the Pacific with her violin. I find this sort of marketing strategy really off-putting, which is a great shame here because she certainly knows how to play the violin.

Of the 3 recordings which I have listened to for the first time recently (Ingrid Matthews, Helene Schmitt and this one), this is the one which I prefer. It seems to me to have much less of the gestural extremes of the other two recordings and, on the whole, she has a pleasing tone, fine musicianship and an excellent technique.

Sometimes, I find her playing a little harsh, which causes me to admire, rather than warm to, her playing. Also, some of her tempi are uncommonly fast, particularly the Courante of the D minor Partita and the Prelude of the E major Partita, and tempi in the fast movements are generally brisk. Sometimes I feel I am getting Lara showing off her superb technique at the expense of letting Bach's superlative music speak for itself.

My top choice in these works remains Julia Fischer (modern performance)

Overall, though, a fine recording.

 

Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin BWV 1001-1006: Details
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
S&P - B. Cruft | S&P - R. Gaehler | S&P - H. Hahn | S&P - S. Kuijken | S&P - I. Matthews | S&P Guitar - P. Galbraith [K. McElhearn] | S&P Guitar - H. Smith [K. McElhearn] | S&P Guitar - H. Smith [Schweickert]
General Discussions:
Part 1 | MD - Chaconne
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
S&P - H. Hahn

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Last update: June 20, 2009 19:08:44