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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (c. 1720)
Sonata No.1 in G minor BWV 1001 [15:57]
Partita No.1 in B minor BWV 1002 [29:10]
Sonata No.2 in A minor BWV 1003 [23:16]
Partita No.2 in D minor BWV 1004 [29:55]
Sonata No.3 in C major BWV 1005 [22:32]
Partita No.3 in E major BWV 1006 [19:17]
Dénes Zsigmondy (violin)
rec. 1995, Church of St Johann Baptist, Holzhausen am Starnberger See
PALADINO PMR0093 [68:01+77:26]

Dénes Zsigmondy (his original surname was Liedemann) was born in Budapest in 1922 and died in Bavaria, where he had long lived, in 2014 at the age of 91. Assiduous collectors may recall the series of sonata recordings he made with his wife Annelise Nissen – they recorded the complete Mozart sonatas, for instance, as well as Beethoven, Grieg, Brahms sonatas. He can also be heard playing the solo violin in Rózsa’s Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song.
Studies with Carl Flesch and Zino Francescatti formed his early musical development; Bartók broadened his ethnological horizons. Zsigmondy spent much of his life in Germany but in 1972 he took a position as Professor at the University of Washington and at Boston University, though he returned to Europe where he was very active as performer and teacher and established a festival.

In May 1995, the year after the death of his wife, Zsigmondy went to the church in Holzhausen where microphones had been set up for him and recorded the six partitas and sonatas of Bach. He was alone in the church during the course of several days and left behind 50 hours on DAT tapes, including some fragmentary performances of movements or parts of movements. His colleague Martin Rummel, who became a sonata partner after his wife’s death, and Robert Müller organised the tapes and they were issued on limited release non-commercial CDs, paid for by the violinist, in 1996. This twofer is a remastered edition of that earlier release, which very few people can have heard.

These are hugely musical realisations, the product of a powerful connective tissue between performer and music. He draws out the essence of the music in performances that evolve with a profound sense of the architecture of each super-structure, its dance imperatives and emotive core. He evokes the vitality and energy of the music too, and phrases with unceasing perception and sympathy. The opening Adagio of the C major Sonata is a case in point, a single unedited take, and the Andante of the A minor Sonata almost as moving. His natural sense of direction irradiates the Chaconne of the Second Partita, taken as an arc, linear but sufficiently flexible. It would be idle to pretend these are technically scrupulous performances given that he was 73 years old. Imprecisions of both left and right hand affect articulation and intonation. The Fugues suffer the most in this respect, and faster movement fare best. The tempos don’t suffer however; he doesn’t sacrifice natural dance rhythms in order to concentrate on cleaner playing. In a sense these performances should be heard in the same light as those of Enescu and Szigeti’s equally spiritually elevated but technically compromised Bach recordings of the sonatas and partitas.

This was certainly not Zsigmondy’s musical Last Will and Testament as he lived for many more years but it represents the most concentrated and elevated of his surviving recordings and reflects a lifelong devotion to music and to its spiritual values.

Jonathan Woolf

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