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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin
Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001 [15:50]
Partita No.1 in B minor, BWV 1002 [27:14]
Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003 [23:36]
Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [26:52]
Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005 [23:17]
Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006 [19:14]
rec. 13-17 August 2013, Klaus von-Bismarck-Saal, Funkhaus, Cologne ONYX 4123 [66:40 + 69:23]
Midori and Bach go back a long way, to when she was seven, to be precise. This was her age when she started practising the Sonata No.1 in G minor. She has lived and breathed these masterpieces, the “Mount Everest” of the violin repertoire, ever since. In the booklet notes, which she has provided, she also expounds on the benefits gained by the fiddle player learning unaccompanied Bach: independence, strengthening and placement of fingers and hands, and intonation through more precise and deeper listening. After thirty years on the stage, in 2013 she felt her time had come to set down her interpretation of this exalted music. She is anxious to point out that her performances of Bach have evolved over the years, and not remained stagnant.
From the very start, the violinist’s warm, polished sound and formidable technique are very much in evidence. Her tone is slender and maybe lacks the variance of tonal colour I would associate with some. Intonation is immaculate. Her Bach playing is historically informed and she plays with an innate sense of architecture and structure, everything having been carefully considered. Flexibility of rhythm and tastefully applied rubato guarantee a fresh-sounding and spontaneous feel.
Sometimes she can be adventurous. In the Presto from BWV 1001, for instance, her phrasing and articulation may take some by surprise. It’s certainly different, but I think it works. The Siciliana that precedes it is, however, rather prosaic and lacks a certain grace. The rhythmic liberties she takes with the Allemande of the D minor Partita may not be to everyone’s taste but, after several hearings, I was won over. It’s followed by a Corrente with some delicious, crisply articulated staccato bowing, giving it an almost coquettish character. I enjoyed the variety of bowings employed in the Preludio from the Partita No.3 in E major, which add piquancy to what can, in some hands, degenerate into monotony. The Loure has a pellucid charm, and she spices things up with some imaginative ornamentation in the Gavotte en Rondeau. In the three fugas of the Sonatas, the subtle counterpoint is delineated with clarity and precision. Double and triple stop chords, are smooth, well negotiated and not coarsely articulated.
How does the Chaconne from the Second Partita fare in all of this? I have left the best until last. It’s a masterful account, displaying formidable technical command. Comfortably paced, it logically unfolds like an over-reaching arc of majestic nobility and grandeur. I felt a sense of inevitability here. After the first hearing, I just wanted to listen to it again and again. She certainly breathes new life into this monumental work.
There’s nothing stale or routine here; these are refreshing interpretations, brushing the cobwebs away and all the more attractive and compelling for the novel insights Midori brings to them. Stephen Greenbank