J.S. BACH: The Six Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-1006 – Kristof Barati, violin – Berlin Classics 0016732BC (2 CDs) 55:32; 59:16 [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
Kristof Barati (b. 1979) is a Budapest-born scion of a musical family, and his main teacher, Eduard Wulfson, can claim a lineage back through Menuhin, Szeryng, and Milstein. Playing upon a 1703 Stradivarius “Lady Harmsworth” through the auspices of the Stradivari Society, Barati makes gorgeous sense (rec. 7-12 September 2009) of the complete solo violin works of Bach. He projects an aggressively fierce tone and vocal delivery that seems to be the standard set by the likes of contemporaries Tetzlaff and Zehetmair.
In his own remarks about the recording of the solo violin works, Barati notes the outstanding acoustics of the Siemensvilla, Berlin, which projects the sturdy, pungent strokes of the Stradivariius in marvelously striking colors. Barati’s tempos tend to be quite fast, reminiscent of Milstein or Melkus, but with a thoroughly different approach. The sonic spread between the violin’s high and low registers–which Bach exploits constantly but with particular audacity in the G Minor Sonata Fuga and the eminent Chaconne from the D Minor Partita–creates duets of compelling tension and textural variety. The evident stamina Barati’s Chaconne proves especially noteworthy, a clear, long line that never breaks in the course of Bach’s melodic and harmonic labyrinths. Barati’s tendency to dig into the notes and maintain a flexible vibrato will remind auditors of the similarly rasping, dramatically acerbic readings we have had from Ricci, Taschner, and Gulli. The Presto of the G Minor Sonata and the equally famous Preludio of the E Major Partita stand out, exemplary in their spontaneous polish and digital flair.
Barati might be playing at some exalted competition, but the intellectual effect proves too stunning to reside in the “etude” category. Another special moment–as Szeryng, Szigeti, Menuhin, and Milstein have often noted–occurs with the long notes and polyphony of the C Major Sonata‘s Adagio, BWV 1005, the rocking motion taking on a hypnotic life of its own. Many of the written chords in Bach remain beyond human realization, as if he were presenting a technical and spiritual asymptote that none could ever attain. Here, the Fuga of the C Major Sonata epitomizes the architectural heights the solo violin must attempt, the very thrusts of the violin proclaiming both the spiritual victory and the limits of physical human effort.
Barati advances through the cycle, much aware of the daunting tasks that lie in his path, yet keeping the “learned” and dance elements in strict balance, the Italian style at all times informed by German discipline. The Partita in D Minor perhaps best assimilates the intellectually profound and naïve, folkish, peasant qualities that exist simultaneously in Bach’s partitas and sonatas. Barati literally insists on a vertical reading of the cycle, but his capacity for melodic flow, legato, and aerial suspension of the bar line proves no less astonishing. The probing sense of discovery resides in these inscriptions as well, witnessed in the Largo from the C Major Sonata and the whole of the B Minor Sonata, BWV 1002. The opening Grave from the A Minor Sonata invokes a world apart, a treasure trove for Paganini that absorbs the entire world of baroque violin practice. Spectacular effects prevail, Barati’s double or multiple stopping and jabbed accents constantly injecting a delightfully disturbed intensity into our preconceived notions of Bach’s chordal writing. A magisterial achievement in violin performance and recording, and a clear candidate for any devotee’s Best of the Year List.
— Gary Lemco