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

CD 1
Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV1001 [15:45]
Partita No. 1 in B minor, BWV1002 [24:42]
Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV1003 [21:25]
CD 2
Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV1004 [27:14]
Sonata No. 3 in C major, BWV1005 [21:52]
Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV1006 [17:21]
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
rec. St. George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol, March, November 1993
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5 22034 2 [62:04 + 66:33]
Experience Classicsonline


The first thing you can say about this recording of Bach’s Sonatas & Patitas for solo violin is that it is very easy on the ears indeed. I don’t mean this as a trite comment. Solo violin can sometimes be felt to be too ‘screechy’ to be enjoyed for long periods of listening, and there are a few recordings in the past which may have served to perpetuate this impression. The forgiving and pleasantly resonant acoustic of St George’s, Brandon Hill in Bristol helps. This is however no wishy-washy recording. The detail and colour of the Tetzlaff’s violin is as clear as the ice floating in the glass of fine malt whisky hearing such gorgeous sounds has inspired you to pour. By the way, the instrument is reportedly a Stradivarius but this detail is not given in the brief booklet notes.

Being at the front seat for not much money; ‘voor een dubbeltje in de eerste rij’ as the Dutch say, has previously been possible with this recording. It appeared in Virgin’s ‘4 Pleasure’ box set series, in this case together with Ralph Kirshbaum’s playing of Bach’s cello suites. This was more of a bargain than this current edition, but at less than a ‘two for the price of one’ offer I shall hear no complaints about this re-re-release, given the all-round quality of the playing and production.

The EMI GROC of these works with Itzhak Perlman is a similarly priced alternative, and so I had a quick listen to see where these two masters differ. Perlman is consistently more sustained in his approach to the more lyrical writing in these pieces. Take the opening lines of the Partita No.2 in D minor and you hear Perlman getting his expression from even legato lines, consistency of tone, a refusal to allow histrionics to take anything away from the essential expressiveness of the notes. Tetzlaff is lighter, giving the lines more character, allowing the duality of the phrases to converse with and play off each other. He is not overtly dramatic, but pulls the rhythms around more, giving each dip and peak of the music its due weight while always managing to sound entirely natural. The second movement, the dancing Corrente tells a similar story, with Tetzlaff’s tempo in this case being considerably more sprightly. He makes Perlman sound a little like the slow old granddad, prancing around his feet like an impish teenager. Each has his own depth and value, but for a performance filled with life and contrast you have to say that Tetzlaff has the longer legs, the greater sense that he can stand alone in a collection without the feeling one might want to start looking for alternatives after a while. Tetzlaff’s Ciaccone, that great masterpiece from this Partita is 13.00 to Perlman’s 15:46. Again, he is lighter where the music allows that freedom of texture which flows like rainwater between the fresh green leaves of each repetition of the recurring bass. His playing tightens like a whipcord where the technical demands kick in, and the drama and sense of arrival by the end are just what the doctor ordered. Perlman is also fine, but lays the drama on with a trowel right from the start. By comparison, we’re already almost worn out by the end of the first minute. Perlman’s moments of relaxation do come, but aren’t given long before we’re moving majestically into ‘the beast with five fingers’ territory once again. It’s vast and inspirational, but the added intensity becomes harder to live with, and by the end we’re just glad everyone has survived and come out, ready for a mop down on the other side.

This 1993 recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin by Christian Tetzlaff has been considered something of a reference for some time now, but if you shop around online these days it is not this recording which pops up the most. Tetzlaff has more recently recorded the Bach solo sonatas and partitas for Hänssler Classics, and this new 2005 release is equally highly recommended, but is at a higher price. I’m afraid I don’t have this new recording for comparison, but it is said to have that expected degree of greater maturity, and a sense of the music and the musician being even more as one. In the end, price may decide on which you go for, but I for one am prepared to stick my neck out and say you certainly won’t be disappointed by this Virgin classics two-disc set. Having it in your collection is like having a beautifully lit fine painting on the wall at home – there to be enjoyed, and to inspire and refresh your soul on a regular basis.

Dominy Clements



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