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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin BWV1001-1006 (1720)
Christine Busch (baroque violin)
rec. December 2011-January 2012, Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Reitstadel
PHI LPH008 [72:40 + 73:08]

Christine Busch shares the surname of an eminent German predecessor, himself a Bach violinist of the highest distinction. Christine Busch, however, comes from a very different lineage. Born in Stuttgart, she regularly leads the Collegium Vocale Ghent under their director Philippe Herreweghe, and earlier in her career she worked with Harnoncourt’s Concentus Musicus Wien. Though she’s made a number of recordings, she has now approached the Parnassus of the violin literature in this two-disc recording of the solo sonatas and partitas.
She plays on an eighteenth-century violin, possibly from the Tyrol, and her bow is a modern copy patterned after an original dating from around 1730. She has also taken the decision to use a facsimile of the autograph manuscript. Her probing musicianship and reluctance to take anything - editorially speaking - at face value is allied to a considered approach to all six works, generating performances of illuminating intelligence. This is of especial value in the contrapuntal movements, which she delineates with considerable clarity but also left hand deftness too. The resultant performances offer thus both clarity and nuance, and are delivered at speeds that may surprise those who were expecting, because of her baroque specialism, that she would race through the music. She is not simply a baroque specialist, after all, as her discography and her concert recitals demonstrate clearly.
Thus the Adagio of the G minor Sonata is both measured in tempo and not subject to scrunchy articulation. Accompanying figures are brought out; leading and accompanying strands duly recognised. Indeed, those playing a modern set-up will invariably take far faster tempi than Busch here, and at several other places in the set. The Allemande of the First Partita is thoughtfully set out, and her chordal playing in the Sarabande is judiciously weighted, lacking abrasive edge. She makes no attempt to force the rhythm or generate spurious excitement in the Tempo di Borea, so often over the years a test case study in Romanticist acceleration. Only occasionally, such as in the Fuga of the Second Sonata, does her deliberation in exploring the counterpoint sound devitalising.
Much of this playing honours the introspection of the music, along with its dance imperatives. The Chaconne from the Second Partita unfolds with logic and surety. It does not much deviate from its direct course, and nor is it subject to moments of excessive emotion - which is to say that it’s at a distant remove from the coiled intensity of the old Russian School in this music. One of her very best performances is the Third Sonata in which her sense of characterisation is strongly engaged and through the formal schema of Adagio, Fugue and Largo we arrive, finally, at the welcome release of an ebullient Allegro assai. With her steady control, and accumulation of expressive qualities, Busch make these intensities the more complete. Lest this give the impression of a certain metronomic determination about her playing - well, far from it. She explores decided subtleties of rubati in the Preludio of the Third Partita in particular.
In terms of phrasing, balance between left and right hand, and tonal nuance these are excellent performances. Their slightly reserved, almost interior dialogues may surprise; and so too the measured tempi. For a historically informed set of the Sonatas and Partitas that reflects technical and expressive control, these performances are highly commended.
Jonathan Woolf