BACH: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (complete) – Hlif Sigurjonsdottir, violin – [www.hlifsigurjons.is] (2 CDs)

by | Jan 12, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (complete) – Hlif Sigurjonsdottir, violin – [www.hlifsigurjons.is] (2 CDs), 138:42 **1/2:

Hlif Sigurjonsdottir does indeed have a reliable and consistent pedigree; she was born in Copenhagen and graduated in Iceland, furthering her studies at Indiana University and Toronto and Banff School of Fine Arts, and then taking lessons with Gerald Beal in New York. She gets a fine tone that leaves little to be desired, and is certainly capable of tackling these seminal and formidable works.

But just because one can does not always mean one should. The Bach solo violin works are among the most beloved and recorded pieces in the literature and anyone engaging them has to be able to bring something new or exceptional to the table. Sigurjonsdottir doesn’t. These are extremely cautious, emotionally careful readings that fear risk from beginning to end. Despite the very few passages where I detected some intonation challenges, she generally is able to handle most of these pieces, but the sense of fear and uncertain insecurity makes much of the listening uncomfortable and almost painful. Tempos are for the most part slower than the norm, don’t vary a lot, and contrasts are practically non-existent. It’s as if one is watching a rock climber slowly trying to negotiate the next hurdle, hoping for the best but always aware that one false move might mean disaster. In this recording that never occurs, but it doesn’t alleviate the feeling that it might.

All you have to do is compare the Gigue and Chaconne from the D minor Partita, or the opening of the E major Partita to St. John, Grumiaux, Mullova—to name just a few—and see what is missing. The A Minor sonata’s great Fuga lacks tension and propulsion, two things absolutely needed in this seminal master movement. I could go on, but the point is made.

This is, as far as I can tell, a vanity production as there is no label or number on this recording. Those interested can search the website in the heading. The sound is actually very nice on these discs, the sonatas done in 2007 with the partitas in 2000-2002. Those wanting these works for the first time should seek out Lara St. John’s SACD set. If you are looking for additional performances, the recommendations are legion, starting with the others I have mentioned.

— Steven Ritter  

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