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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas and Partitas for Violin BWV 1001 - 1006

Sonata no. 1 in G minor
Partita no. 1 in B minor
Sonata no. 2 in A minor
Partita no. 2 in D minor
Sonata no. 3 in C major
Partita no. 3 in E major
Mark Lubotsky (violin)
Recorded at Maria Minor Church, Utrecht 1987
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93387 [68.16 + 71.51]

These discs have done the rounds. Recorded in Utrecht they started off on Clavigram and were subsequently licensed to Collins, which is where I first heard them. They’ve now been revivified by Brilliant Classics both singly, as here, and as part of a large Bach Edition issued by that company. Lubotsky is probably best known on disc for his Britten and Schnittke but he’s also been committed to Prokofiev, Tubin and some of the core repertory. You can’t get much more core than the Sonatas and Partitas and Lubotsky, a player in the strong, Russian romantic tradition, brings some considerable reserves of drama and incision to this repertoire as well as a feeling for extremely expressive slow movements. But the competition comprises some of the most distinguished of names and Lubotsky’s technical and tonal armouries are not quite as fully stocked as theirs.

Indeed his approach throughout is one of elastic tempi in slow movements that borders on the enervating. I happen to feel it’s not the tempo of, say, the Adagio of the First Sonata that gives the piece such a feeling of slowness so much as a subtle lack of rhythmic lift; this also applies to the Fuga where a lack of cumulative energy leads to caution and is maybe explained by some technical compromises. The Siciliana that follows is, however, most diverting – lightly articulated and bowed: gossamer. The First Partita is a very difficult one to judge and I do find too much of the playing here mechanical and uninvolving – the Borea for example just isn’t ideally buoyant, through the Double has exceptionally well defined diminuendi. There are moments of coarse tone as well – the Fuga of the Second Sonata is a case in point (and there are a number of moments when Lubotsky risks criticism of this kind).

I enjoyed much of the Second Partita but the Chaconne, though tending toward the status of an interior monologue doesn’t have the sense of inevitability that it should – and there is invariably a disappointment, a feeling of the prosaic and the taxed, even amidst all the fine playing and imaginative nuances. He’s especially problematic in Fugues where his tone takes on a steely, scratchy Hubermanesque quality. Even with some fine examples of his imagination in slow movements I’m afraid a recommendation would not be possible. Amongst the older romantics Shumsky’s personalised and leonine playing, so full of dynamic gradients and tonal variety, continues to impress. Perlman is for modern day romantics, Grumiaux for more general recommendation.

Jonathan Woolf

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