Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001 [17:10]
Partita No.1 in B minor, BWV 1002 [30:47]
Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003 [24:09]
Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [31:53]
Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005 [24:34]
Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006 [18:59]
Julia Fischer (violin)
rec. 2004, Doopsgezinde Singelkerk, Amsterdam
Reviewed in SACD stereo/surround
PENTATONE PTC5186682 SACD [73:08 + 76:52]
This is a repackaging of Julia Fischer’s well-regarded set of Bach’s Sonatas & Partitas released in 2005 on the Pentatone label (review). The new look appears in an attractive clamshell box with the discs in card sleeves and booklet notes that still include Julia Fischer’s question as to “whether I should be recording Bach’s complete sonatas and partitas at the age of only 21.” The question is answered perfectly by performances that are very fine indeed, and I hope Pentatone is justified in a re-release that also offers an expensive vinyl option.
The Doopsgezinde Singelkerk in Amsterdam is one of those rectangular spaces with seating galleries like an early theatre, so the resonance is roomy but by no means swampy. The recording puts a little distance between us and the instrument, and the SACD effect is very nice but not overly luxuriant. Fischer is nimble rather than spectacularly showy in virtuoso movements such as the final Presto of Sonata No.1, and her expressive depth in slow movements such as the Sarabande of Partita No. 1 is such that the music breathes without added layers of performer-profundity. In other words, these are excellent and uncontroversional performances that have indeed stood the test of time.
This is of course a crowded market, and it’s not been long since Christian Tetzlaff’s recording from the Ondine label (review) became one of my new top choices. The way he makes these pieces sing, dance, and move us to the depths of subtle introspection sets the standard for modern recordings in my opinion. Fischer’s tone is a little weightier and a touch less transparent than Tetzlaff, though the more distant balance lends itself less well to the kind of soft intensity we hear at times on the Ondine recording. Fischer is by no means insensitive in terms of dynamics, but the ‘throw’ of her sound is more concert hall than chamber.
I always go for the Chaconne from BWV 1004 as a reference point, and Fischer is of course excellent. I hear her performance as a kind of formal procession in which a variety of fascinating carriages pass by, some sparkling and magnificent, others shrouded in mystery or richly symbolic in appearence – all held together by a golden thread of thematic unity. There isn’t quite the atmosphere of magic or potency of narrative that I hear in Tetzlaff, but such things remain subjective. What does make a difference is Fischer’s use of vibrato where many are now happy to allow historically informed practice take the strain. This gives some moments of the Chaconne an epic grandiloquence you don’t hear so much these days.
This reissue leaves us wondering if Julia Fischer is planning on recording these works again. All recordings capture a moment in time, and she would no doubt be the first to admit that she will have moved on since 2005. There’s no great hurry for such a project, but I have no doubt that the results would make for a fascinating comparison. If you missed out on Julia Fischer the first time around then this is a great opportunity to acquire a superb recording of the Sonatas and Partitas. If I was in the record shop and shoving options under your nose then I would suggest saving a few quid and going for Christian Tetzlaff, but if you fancy a little SACD royalty then this Pentatone set will provide a great deal of pleasure.