Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1760)
Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 (c.1717-20) [27:06]
Lera AUERBACH (b. 1973)
par.ti.ta for violin solo (2007) [20:32]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006 (c.1717-20) [17:32]
Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931)
Sonata in A minor for solo violin, Op. 27 No.2 (1924) [11:54]
Vadim Gluzman (violin)
rec. December 2011, Sendesaal Bremen, Germany
BIS BIS-SACD-1972 [78:24]

We’ve come across Vadim Gluzman’s cheeky smile in a highly regarded recording of the Bruch Violin Concerto (see review), and now here is a solo disc which combines two partitas by J.S. Bach with works by Eugène Ysaÿe, and Lera Auerbach’s par.ti.ta, composed especially for Vadim Gluzman.
With Bach there are always an almost infinite number of ways to approach a performance, and having plucked Isabelle Faust’s Harmonia Mundi recording of these two Partitas plus the Sonata BWV 1005, HMC 902059, I find myself reluctant to pick over comparative merits. Faust is a little more playful and lighter in touch with the dance movements though Gluzman is by no means heavy, while both she and Gluzman take on early-music style in employing vibrato as ornament rather than a constant feature of tone. We might as well dive straight for the famous and glorious Chaconne with which the Partita BWV 1004 concludes. Gluzman’s performance has a superb sense of shape and development, and a natural and easy instinct for phrasing and breathing in a movement in which there are no rests. Colour and contrast serve to distinguish between sections, and while there is drama and jaw-dropping technique there is also always maximum control and a feeling that we are as close as we can be to what Bach would have wanted. This is one movement in which I can safely say I prefer Gluzman to Faust, who serves up mildly sour intonation in the first few minutes, something from which I find it hard to recover no matter how wonderful her playing can be later on. Gluzman is terrific in the stunning variations before the major modulation, opening the door quietly and cautiously into that garden of brighter colours and leading us past its fragrant blooms with measured care, allowing their presence to take full effect. The central measures of this section is like Mussorgsky’s Great Gate of Kiev, just before we find ourselves dropping, via a delicate transition, back into the minor-key abyss.
I was privileged to be in the audience at Lera Auerbach’s Russian Requiem in Tallinn at the Nargen Festival in 2009, and so her emphatically passionate sound-world is not entirely foreign territory. Her par.ti.ta is one of the results of a long-term collaboration with Vadim Gluzman, and as the work’s dedicatee puts it, this “is an incredible work, projecting Lera’s lifelong fascination with Bach.” There are ‘traces and echoes’ of Bach throughout the piece, with a relationship ‘more on a subconscious level’ than in terms of using direct quotes, though identifiable moments can be found. Exploring the outer extremes of the violin’s range and the performer’s technique, this is much more than a flamboyant showpiece, with masses of intriguing material, the technical effects always in place to serve an expressive point. There is a Schnittke-like feel to the dramatic repetitions of the seventh Adagio tragico movement, and the mood in general cannot really be taken as anything other than serious and movingly melancholy as well as excitingly dramatic at times. Bach’s more jocular side is less commonly apparent, though the lighter Andantino scherzando earlier on does balance things a little.
Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata in A minor has been chosen for its parallels with Bach’s Partita No.3, and Gluzman gives a stunning performance of one of the sternest tests in the violin repertoire. Comparing this to Henning Kraggerud’s Simax SACD (see review) is another thankless task, as both are so very good. Gluzman is more extravagantly flamboyant in the first movement, digging out tremendous amounts of detail and character in a performance which is scary in its directness. The following Malinconia is deeply moving, though a little more swiftly forward in pace than Kraggerud’s. Gluzman’s deeper, darker toned instrument works superbly in the two-part counterpoint of this beautiful movement. Gluzman is eloquent and elegant in the third movement, his pizzicati full-toned, the searching melodic progressions questioning and questing. I love Kraggerud’s spreading of those pizzicato chords in the opening of this movement, but Gluzman’s accented touch works as well. Les Furies is every bit the stunning finale you would hope for.
This is a superbly prepared programme and recorded in stunning SACD sound within which Gluzman moves about a bit, but in this regard taking nothing away from your being able to close your eyes and imagine him swaying expressively in front of you with startling sonic clarity. The Sendesaal acoustic is richly resonant, and with both detail and atmosphere this is a recital of masterpieces performed by a master craftsman, and one to relish.
Dominy Clements

A recital to relish.