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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1002 [33.01]
Eugene YSAŸE (1858-1931) Sonata No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27/1 [17.23]
Bela BARTÓK (1881-1945) Sonata for Violin solo (1944) [27.37]
Baiba Skride (violin, "Huggins" Stradivari, 1708)
Recorded at Studio 10, DeutschlandRadio Berlin, 3-6 May 2005. DDD.
SONY CLASSICAL SK92938 [78.03]
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The booklet proclaims these works to be ‘solo manifestos’ not only for Baiba Skride in establishing her credentials on disc but also for the composers themselves. Indeed there is a tidy connection that links the three composers, Bach being the bedrock that both Ysaÿe and Bartók acknowledge through their works.

Skride hails from Riga in the Latvian Republic, and this I suspect will lead many to initially mention her name in the same breath as Gidon Kremer and maybe compare and contrast her playing with his. But Kremer is far from her only rival on disc in these pieces. In fact it seems that any fresh-faced young violinist these days wants to jump headlong into Bach’s solo works – Julia Fischer, Hilary Hahn et al – but my hope is that they keep the works in their repertoire, even if they might not get the opportunity to re-record them as Kremer and Menuhin notably have after deepening their understanding of them.

The opening of the second partita is immediately bold, the violin being closely recorded so that you have the feeling of sitting a few feet away from the assured performance that is taking place. Kremer’s second recording for ECM is similarly caught, but his playing throughout has an altogether rougher edge to it that some have seen as "searching for the truth within the music", others see it just as rough tone. With Skride the Allemanda alternates passages of near declamation (not too insistently given) with more reflectively voiced phrases. Although Skride’s tempi may not be the fastest around, but she does not give the sense of dawdling her way through the music.

The Corrente picks up the tempo nicely and, like the fourth movement Giga, carries a pleasing zest about it. The third movement Sarabanda is notable here for its use of pared down tone and finely drawn pianissimo that sacrifice little in the way of tonal substance. The final movement Ciaccona appears, like the rest of the work, to be of deceptive simplicity that actually hides technical challenges galore (leading one to understand why Kremer refers to the Sonatas and Partitas as the "Himalayas of the violin repertoire"). Skride takes the challenge presented in her stride with a thoroughly youthful precociousness, and achieves a convincing result.

The "Huggins" Stradivari is an instrument in fine form with several nuances to its palette. The top register is clean, bright and supple, though never hard or metallic as one often experiences with lesser instruments. The middle range is warm and links beautifully to a rich and deep bottom register. All of these are important aspects in each work given here, but it seems to me particularly so in Ysaÿe’s first sonata. Skride’s reading of it does bear similarities to that of the Bach – a relatively expansive view taken, likeness of tone. But when placed alongside a reading like that by Ilya Kaler on Naxos welcome differences of approach and results become apparent. Kaler’s reading, though forthright in approach, suffers in my view from being too resonantly recorded, leading to a muddied sound in faster passages. Skride’s slower tempi and cleanness of recording neatly avoid this problem, and therefore might be preferable to many as a result. But some might also counter that she sacrifices something of getting beneath the skin of the work for the sake of showy virtuosity. However Ysaÿe’s composition in my view is undoubtedly strong enough to withstand both views, and like the other two works there is never likely to be a single definitive reading.

Bartók’s solo sonata will be ever linked with its commissioner and dedicatee, Yehudi Menuhin. More recent readings too show their performers’ Bartókian credentials to good effect – Isabelle Faust on Harmonia Mundi in particular. Skride’s vision of the work is somewhat more urgent than Faust’s – even in the Fuga and Melodia – that leads to a greater sense of cohesion in the reading as a whole. Indeed one can hear most clearly in the Fuga Bartók’s acknowledgement of Bach, as Skride’s playing seems intent on emphasising this. But one should also be conscious that the opening Tempo di ciaccona derives directly in form out of Bach’s fearsome Ciaccona, heard earlier. This tying together of works does much to strengthen the appeal of the disc as a whole. Even the Bartók exhibits a sameness of tonal production, and musically nutritious though the tone and use of it is, it can be like a meal of the finest ingredients that sits a little heavily on you when eaten at a single sitting.

One thing’s for sure though, this disc is no turkey and hooray for that! We’ve all had enough of those by now haven’t we?

Evan Dickerson



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