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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

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Johann.Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo (c. 1720)
CD 1 [61:35]
Sonata No 1 in G minor, BWV 1001; Adagio [4:05]; Fuga [4:49];Siciliana [3:04]; Presto [3:30];
Partita No.1 in B minor, BWV 1002; Allemanda [4:37];Double [2:14]; Corrente [3:29]; Double.Presto [3:22]; Sarabande [3:15];.Double [3:07];Temopo di Borea [3:30]; Double [3:22]
Sonata No 2. in A minor, BWV 1003; Grave [4:27];Fuga [7:56]; Andante [5:33];Allegro [5:16].
CD 2 [68:43]
Partita No 2 in D minor, BWV 1004; Allemanda [4:22]; Courante [2:26]; Sarabanda [3:28]; Giga [4:03]; Ciaccona [14:00].
Sonata No 3 in C major, BWV 1005;Adagio [3:22]; Fuga [9:06]; Largo [2:37]; Allegra assasi [4:45].
Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006; Preludio [3:18]; Loure [3:45]; Gavotte en Rondeau [2:57]; Menuet I [1:38]; Minuet II [2:26]; Bourée [1:16]; Gigue [1:49]
Gidon Kremer, violin
rec: Partitas: 25-29 Sept. 2001, Lockenhaus, Pfarrkirche St. Nikolaus; Sonatas: 10-15 March 2002, Riga, Recording Studio.
ECM NEW SERIES 1926/27 4767291 [61:35 + 68:43]


Some 2000 years before J.S. Bach wrote his Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the Greek philosopher Aristocles (Plato) penned a perspective of music, the essence of which could have not been more relevant to these magnificent works had the composer himself written it:
Music is a moral law.
It gives a soul to the universe,
wings to the wind, flight to the imagination,
a charm to sadness, gaiety, and life to everything.
It is the essence of order and leads to all that is good,
just and beautiful, of which it is this invisible,
but nevertheless dazzling,
passionate, and eternal form.

A perceived spiritual aspect of these works is acknowledged by many, including Gidon Kremer the violinist featured on this new ECM release of J.S. Bachís Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin. Whether this arises out of association with Bachís own deeply committed spiritual disposition, the spiritual reawakening of some musicians who record these six masterpieces in their more mature years, is a matter of conjecture.

Having listened to numerous interpretations of the Partitas and Sonatas over many years, this writer has significant empathy for the expressed view of Gidon Kremer. During an interview with Jean-Louis Validire (Nov. 4, 2005 in Le Figaro) Kremer gives further insight into this aspect of his interpretation:

" You are not supposed to pronounce the name of God as it is in the scriptures and to me Bach is God. It is obvious that his music was written by someone who came from another planet but at the same time he was a human being ... My challenge was to treat Bach like a contemporary composer. How it will be judged is not my concern."

The Partitas and Sonatas share with the Suites for Unaccompanied Cello a number of things; one is the frequency with which the same artists have recorded them. Mischa Maisky has recorded the Cello Suites twice. This is also the second recorded rendition of the Partitas and Sonatas by Gidon Kremer; his first for Philips, made in 1980 appears to be out of print and is difficult to procure. On this occasion comparison between the original and current version, however relevant and desirable, is therefore not possible.

Gidon Kremer chose ECM because it was the company in which he had the most confidence and which shared his values; also because he felt there would be no interference and the recording would freely bear his signature.

Another aspect which Kremer may not have initially considered in choosing ECM, but which has had a profound effect on the results, is the technical/sonic quality of the recording. Generally characteristic of recordings made by ECM, the clarity and definition of these particular discs is "equalled by few and exceeded by none". When such superb recordings are auditioned on high quality sound equipment, added dimensions of realism and enjoyment are discovered.

Here is an appropriate place to acknowledge the contribution made by Mr Kremerís violin - a Guarneri (ex-David) from 1730 - to the recordingís excellence. For those less familiar with the nomenclature, this instrument is so designated because it was once owned by Ferdinand David, concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in the mid-19th century. Heifetz also owned a Guarneri (ex-David) of 1742, which he purchased in 1922 for the princely sum of $30,000; he declined to sell it in 1969 for $3 million. One can imagine how Mr. Kremer felt when, during a concert tour in the USA, he discovered that he had left his Guarneri violin on the train at Baltimoreís Penn Station!

An Attempted Approach

When a great musician assumes an attitude of humility oneís empathy for what he has achieved is invariably heightened. Regarding his performance of these works Kremer comments thus:

"As for myself I can only say about this new recording that itís like the "worldly goods" left behind by a humble musician who has recognized his own abilities as well as the limits imposed upon him by the times in which he lived, who yet allowed himself - in the hope that it would prove to be of service to music - to make a last confession (a "reading of the notes")".

As a group - or individually - these three partitas and sonatas are amazing music.

Gidon Kremer notes:

"Time passes, whether that of the creator or of the servant, while the black dots and strokes are caught by ink and paper stay forever. Ages before our Internet era these little symbols carried gigabytes of information, but unlike what we can download today, they were always full of spiritual value. We question them and they continue to tell us something, while at the same time questioning us all."

In making this recording Gidon Kremer tried to forget all other interpretations and concentrate on all the musical problems as well as aiming to be true to the score.

There is great vitality and energy in this playing - scientists refer to "kinetic energy," the energy of motion. The Gigue from BWV 1004 (Disc 2 Tr. 4) generates visions of a waterfall in flood.

A unique aspect of this recording is the differential between the softest and loudest passages within a movement - well illustrated by reference to the Fugue from Sonata No. 2 (Disc 1, Tr.14). This dynamic range results in an effect parallelling that achieved by the Tallis Scholars performing Allegriís Miserere (Gimell 454 939-2). Here, in a reverberant building, the soloists are placed some distance from the rest of the choir, resulting in a vivid presence and dimension to the sound. Here the effect is almost like that of a second violin with duplication of fugue voices.

The crowning glory of the set is Partita No. 2, BWV 1004, and in particular the Ciaccona. This music will test the technical and musical prowess of any violinist to their limits. There is difference of opinion as to whether those movements bearing dance names of the time were so named as a matter of convention or because they were intended to act as potential accompaniment. The interpretations by Mr Kremer lend validation in favour of the latter role. The Courante from this Partita has strikingly accented rhythms and in the Gigue it is difficult to remain motionless. At a playing time of 14:00 minutes the tempo of the Ciaccona is just right. Masterful and sensitive bowing of multiple-stoppings gives exceptional clarity to both bass and treble voices. Nathan Milsteinís use of the bow in such passages was once described, as "like violent slashes with a sword". It may be emulation of that approach that endows many versions of this music with a rather raspy-jerky quality. As in several other movements, dynamic range between softest and loudest on the review discs is quite marked, again giving an impression of increased voices.

Listening to the review discs reminds this writer of an especially emotional past experience: meeting for the very first time the mature son of a lifelong and loved friend - a physical clone of his father yet as an individual so distinctly and uniquely different.

Numerous alternative recordings of these works provides a wide choice and new ones appear with regularity. There is no one "best recording" and there never will be. Of the many this writer has heard and more than a dozen owned, the review discs compare more than favourably.

All things considered if persuaded by a neophyte to recommend a version with outstanding diverse virtues, it would be this one. For aficionados a significant void will exist in their collection if this fine recording is not included. Highly recommended listening.

Zane Turner

 

 



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