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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas and Partitas for Violin BWV 1001 - 1003
Sonata no. 1 in G minor
Partita no. 1 in B minor
Sonata no. 2 in A minor
Lara Lev, violin
Rec: July 2001, Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankosi, Finland.
APEX 0927-48307-2 [62.20]
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Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin stand apart in the composer's work, as well as in the entire repertoire of violin music. While other composers have written solo pieces for violin (some of Bach's predecessors, such as Biber, Westhoff and Walther had written solo violin works, and others wrote solo pieces after Bach), none approach Bach's works, which stand at the summit of the violin repertoire. Written in the middle of Bach's life (completed in 1720), these six suites achieve the unthinkable - they manage to express complex polyphonic music with an essentially monophonic instrument. When listening to them, one is constantly amazed at the unheard harmonies that are created in the listener's inner ear through Bach's magnificently subtle counterpoint.

This disc, the first of two released on the Apex label, contains the first 2 sonatas and the first partita. The contrast on this recording is quite striking - and not in the positive sense. While the G minor adagio is played smoothly, almost lyrically, Lev attacks the violin in the fugue of the same sonata with such harsh, violent bowing, that it sounds almost like a parody of violin playing. One cannot but wonder how this movement made it to disc. The following siciliano is smooth and flowing again, but the closing presto is terribly unmusical.

The rest of the disk follows this irregularity - the corrente of the B minor partita sounds amateurish in its wooden phrasing; the double is inspired and energetic; the A minor sonata opens well with an expressive grave, but then in the fugue, Levís sound gets especially grungy when playing double-stops. And Levís staccato playing of the allegro in this sonata just doesnít work, especially as she throws in the occasional legato passage. It ends up sounding confusing.

While a few movements on this disc are well-played, the overall tone is poor and lacking in any emotion. This is one disc to avoid; go instead for one of the many fine recordings of these great works, such as the first Sigiswald Kuijken recording on DHM, played on a beautiful baroque violin, or the legendary recording by Arthur Grumiaux, on Philips.

Kirk McElhearn


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