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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin (ca. 1720)

Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV1001 [16:12]
Partita No.1 in B minor, BWV1002 [29:04]
Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV1003 [23:28]
Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV1004 [29:59]
Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV1005 [24:49]
Partita No.3 in E major, BWV1006 [19:30]
Jaap Schröder (baroque violin)
rec. village church of Oltingen, Canton of Basel, Switzerland, 1984-5
NAXOS 8.557563-64 [68:43 + 74:17]
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I hadn’t been aware that Jaap Schröder had recorded the Sonatas and Partitas for the Smithsonian Institute back in 1984-85. I’ve been aware for some time of his performances of the violin and keyboard sonatas. However the greater test is the solo works. These were set down over two decades ago in what may well have been the last days of LP. They now re-enter a greater market than they can ever have achieved before.

All of which alerts one to the fact that the pioneering Schröder now has a deal of competition from such as Sigiswald Kuijken and newcomers such as Rachel Podger, though I have yet to hear her traversal of the Sonatas and Partitas. In comparison with a contemporary exponent of original instruments, such as Kuijken, Schröder is inclined to be rhythmically rather clement. This, combined with a deliberate abjuring of terracing dynamics and a lightly bowed and carefully articulated approach, can sometimes gives these works a becalmed and static introversion. He is, more than most, aware of the dance structures that animate Bach’s solo string works. For the most part these are performances so far removed from conventional performances on a modern set-up that it is sensible to see them in the light of a pioneer at work, post Eduard Melkus et al, in propagandising baroque performance on disc, not just in concert.

The relaxed bowing that animates these works – try the G minor Sonata’s Prelude – is a distinguishing feature (some accelerandi here) as is a tone that will appeal as astringently alive or spindly according to taste. The Fugues can sound rather over-cautious – the same sonata’s Fuga sounds over-retarded rhythmically to me – and a degree of effortfulness can sometimes be conveyed. The Sarabande of the B minor Partita is taken at an elegantly and lightly bowed clip. There are few dynamics to shape it, though when called upon to sustain the Andante of the A minor Sonata he does so unselfconsciously and admirably.

The Chaconne of the D minor Partita is not really the litmus test it might be in other traversals because it is entirely congruent with his playing as a whole. It’s mercifully unlingering but somehow it never takes a convincing shape, either vertically (in terms of dynamics) or horizontally, in terms of phrasal logic. Elsewhere there are also times throughout his readings when he slows down to accommodate difficult chordal stretches and the propulsion of the music is interrupted. I found some Allegros tended to sound unrelieved, especially the concluding Allegro assai of the Sonata in C major.

As to rival versions on original instruments Kuijken (on Harmonia Mundi) recorded his set not so long after Schröder and I would prefer it for its greater tensile strength and rhythmic profile.

Jonathan Woolf

se also reviews by Zane Turner and Peters Lawson



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