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.
se also reviews by
Turner and Peters