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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Partita No. 1 in B minor for solo violin, BWV1002 (1720) [24'58]
Sonata No. 2 in A minor for solo violin, BWV1003 (1720) [17'40]
Partita No. 3 in E major for solo violin, BWV1006 (1720) [16'06]
Ilya Gringolts, violin
Recorded in Mol (Belgium), Galaxy Studios, 11/2002

Ilya Gringolts made his public performance debut at the age of eleven, having had his first violin lesson when aged five. In 1998, aged sixteen, he was the youngest-ever winner of the International Violin Competition "Premio Paganini" and was hailed as the best interpreter of Paganini's Caprices. In 1999 he entered the Juilliard School in New York to study with Itzhak Perlman, with whom he worked until 2002. He has since performed with many North American orchestras, performed at the "Ground Zero" concert, and played at the BBC Proms in 2002. He is one of Radio 3's New Generation Artists and broadcasts regularly on the BBC.

An impressive profile from such a young performer (just in his twenties) suggests thrills in store. This may well be in the more modern repertoire where attack and emotion can have full rein, but I am afraid that in the Bach unaccompanied violin works, that approach comes sadly amiss. These Sonatas and Partitas are rightly regarded as the summit of a violinist's achievement; they require supreme control, not only of one's technique but of one's emotions. This does not mean that they are sterile, mathematical works; far from it. They need playing in the genre in which they were written but also the most delicate of nuances in their interpretation. In the right hands one can sense the harmonic background without actually hearing it. In these aspects Gringolts is certainly not helped by the recording which is over-close and also reverberant. I suspect he uses steel strings rather than gut, all of which produces an unpleasant stridency to the tone. Add to this his tendency to use heavy-bowed accentuation on the more marcato passages, not to mention some laboured double-stopping, the music ceases to flow and one loses that sense of background harmony. Certainly his technique is fully equal to the demands of the music, but the soul within the dazzling fiddlistics is lacking. As a comparison after a disappointing session listening, I turned to Grumiaux on a Philips Duo (438 736-2PM2) (for which one gets the whole six partitas and sonatas at a cheaper price) and my faith in Bach was immediately restored in full measure. Add to this that the recording is immeasurably better, there is not really any competition. In a final deciding factor, the booklet is devoted to a rather trite "interview" between Gringolts and Jeremy Nicholas; a short history of the works and their place in Bach's repertoire would I think have been far more appropriate.

In short, a disappointing disc from an artist who possibly suffers from the modern-day "hype" leading to increased expectations. Give another ten to fifteen years and try again.

John Portwood


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