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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Johann Sebastian BACH(1685-1750)
Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin

Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001 [16:32]
Partita No.1 in B minor, BWV 1002 [21:22]
Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003 [22:21]
Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [27:31]
Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005 [28:55]
Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006 [15:26]
Henryk Szeryng (violin)
rec. December 1952
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR1037/8 [60:17 + 68:01]

Of the numerous cycles of Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin that I’ve collected over the years, this must surely rank as one of the finest. Szeryng took these works into the studio on two occasions. The more familiar and available DG cycle was recorded in 1967, and was the first set I acquired back in the days of LP. The earlier mono traversal from 1952, here issued by Forgotten Records, made a limited appearance on CD in the early nineteen-nineties on Sony (MP2K46721) but, now deleted, has been difficult to obtain of late, except at great expense.

Szeryng made quite a name for himself in Bach playing. There is a distinguished cycle of the Six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord with Helmut Walcha from 1969 available in Japan on Philips. There is also a terrific live recital (12 April 1976) on TDK, again only available in Japan, in which the violinist performs both solo Bach and violin and keyboard sonatas, this time accompanied by Michael Isador on the piano.

What impresses me with Szeryng’s solo Bach is his complete lack of dryness, routine and academicism. Elegance and refinement are the order of the day. He finds a freshness and freedom in the music yet it is, at all times, informed with intelligence and supreme musicianship. He doesn’t impose his personality on these masterpieces, but lets the music speak for itself. With a flawless technique, there are no hints of idiosyncrasy or mannerism. Intonation is crystalline, which is an essential element in music of this nature where the solo violin is so exposed.

The subtle counterpoint of the fugal writing is delineated with transparency and precision. Double and triple stop chords, especially in the Chaconne of the Second Partita are smooth and not coarsely articulated, as one sometimes hears. They are delivered with clarity of attack and incisiveness. Throughout, Szeryng’s varied vibrato is in evidence and tastefully applied, adding a wealth of tonal shading and opulence. Intelligent phrasing and rhythmic freedom confer a sense of music being created on the wing.

Comparing this 1952 cycle with the later DG, I wasn’t aware of too much interpretative divergence, apart from a little more spontaneity from the younger Szeryng. It joins my favourites, who also get to the spiritual heart of these works, including those by Grumiaux, Shumsky, Martzy and the young Menuhin.

I have never been wholly satisfied with my Sony transfers which I’ve noticed have some background distortion. I am at a loss to explain why, but it may be due to poor source copies. There are no such infelicities in these new re-masterings which are taken from pristine Odeon and CBS LPs. The sound achieved has more bloom, warmth and richness, thus rendering the listening experience more pleasurable.

Stephen Greenbank



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