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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001 [16:09]
Partita No.1 in B minor, BWV 1002 [26:26]
Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003 [22:15]
Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [27:28]
Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005 [21:12]
Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006 [17:11]
Devy Erlih (violin)
rec. 1969
DOREMI DHR-8061/2 [2 CDs: 130:41]

This cycle of Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin was recorded for the French record label Adès in 1969, a company that ran from 1953 to1988. The recording made a CD appearance in 2006 on Accord, but sadly this was short-lived. That incarnation is almost impossible to find now, and when it does, it commands high prices. Thankfully the Canadian company Doremi have come to the rescue with these fresh and vibrant transfers, expertly accomplished by Jacob Harnoy, the label’s founder, and Clive Allen.

Devy Erlih, born in Paris in 1928, was the son of Moldovan-Jewish immigrants. He inherited his musical gifts from his father, who was a folk musician playing cimbalom and pan-pipes, and who ran a cafe orchestra. Devy studied with Jules Boucherit at the Paris Conservatoire. Boucherit’s other pupils included Ginette Neveu, Henri Temianka and Michèle Auclair. His training was interrupted by the Second World War, but when it resumed he took the Conservatoire’s Première Prix and an international career was launched. He won the Long-Thibaud Competition in 1955. His travels took him around Europe, to the United States and as far afield as Japan. He died tragically on 7 February 2012 when he was fatally hit by a reversing lorry on his way to the École normale de musique, Paris, where he was still teaching.

This cycle will appeal to those, like myself, who hold a preference for solo Bach in a modern instrument performance with vibrato. Erlih's technical command is above reproach, and his intonation is flawless. Such is his intellectual insight into this music that one can safely assume that his interpretations are born of a long acquaintance. He has a total grasp of the music's structure and architecture. His playing echews all mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. On the whole, he favours brisk tempi in the dance movements, which are rhythmically taut and engaging. To the slow movements he brings emotional warmth and deeply felt expression. The fugues are particularly successful, as the polyphonic lines are clearly delineated. He is also a master colourist, and his sound never comes across as monochrome or one-dimensional.

In the hands of Erlih, the Chaconne is a mighty edifice. I love the way the narrative logically unfolds, and when the theme returns at the end there is a sense of inevitability and fulfilment. In the variations with double and triple stops, the chords are fluent, clean and incisive. What clinches it for me is that he uses either the Ferdinand David 1843 edition, or one closely aligned to it, which was taken up by Leopold Auer amongst others. There is a thirty-two bar variation (bars 88-119) where, in the original, Bach simply indicates arpeggios. David offers four different patterns, which not only provide an element of contrast, but add considerably to the cumulative build-up of the music. Two of Auer's pupils, Jascha Heifetz and Nathan Milstein, also play this more interesting version.

This release is announced as “Devy Erlih (violin) Volume 1”. I certainly look forward with eager anticipation to the next instalment.

Stephen Greenbank


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