J. S. BACH: The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo, BWV 1001-1006 – Gidon Kremer – ECM New Series

by | Oct 27, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

J. S. BACH: The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo, BWV
1001-1006 – Gidon Kremer – ECM New Series 1926/27 (2 CDs), 1:11:18

Of the three great solo instrument masterpieces Bach left for posterity
– the Six Unaccompanied Violin Sonatas and Partitas, the Six
Unaccompanied Cello Sonatas, and the Well-Tempered Klavier – I find I
listen most frequently to the cello sonatas and have the most versions
of them on recordings.  This in spite of myself being a sometime
harpsichordist (perhaps endless practicing of those Two-Part Inventions
did me in). One of the reasons I’m sure for my ignoring the solo violin
works is that solo unaccompanied violin on recordings points up the
inadequacies of the 44.1 PCM recording standard, resulting in edgy
metallic string tone even worse than heard from the string sections in
orchestral recordings. Recording, mastering and pressing of standard
CDs has been skillfully tweaked by many producers in the last few
years, and ECM – long on the cutting edge of sonic quality already –
has given us a 44.1 recording in this set which, played on quality
high-end gear, will eliminate the annoyance of  digititus and
allow hearing a fine facsimile of Gidon Kremer’s 1730 Guarnieri, even
though it’s not SACD format.

The layout of the six works is for the first Sonata in G minor to be
follow by the first Partita in B minor, then the Sonata No. 2 in A
minor followed by the Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Finally the Sonata No.
3 in C Major is followed by the Partita No. 3 in E Major. The three
sonatas all have four movements: a slow, a fugue movement, usually
another slow movement, and a concluding fast movement – Presto or
Allegro. The three Partitas all follow the French suite form of many
movements – as many as eight in No. 1 – and often in dance rhythms.
Kremer’s two-page essay in the booklet on his approach to performing
and recording the works is excellent reading. Bach wrote all six in the
year 1720 and they have certainly stood the test of time, along with
his other unaccompanied cello set. One can only be dumbfounded at the
embracing sonic universe he created using only a single-voice
instrument. Kremer’s phrasing and dynamics are more edgy and emotional
than most great violinists who have tackled these scores on recordings,
but not nearly as violent as the “new Vivaldi” school soloists such as
Enrico Onofri (Il Giardino Armonico) or Giuliano Carmignola (Venice

– John Sunier


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