Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin
Sonata No.1 in G minor BWV 1001 [17:26]
Partita No.1 in B minor BWV 1002 [21:59]
Sonata No.2 in A minor BWV 1003 [21:22]
Partita No.2 in D minor BWV 1004 [28:45]
Sonata No.3 in C major BWV 1005 [24:38]
Partita No.3 in E major BWV 1006 [17:32]
Theo Olof (violin)
rec. c. 1974 DOREMI DHR8085-86 [2 CDs: 131:57]
My initial encounter with the playing of Theo Olof was an LP in which he played the Bach Double Concerto, assuming the second part to Herman Krebbers' first. The Hague Philharmonic was conducted by Wilhelm Otterloo. At the time, the two violinists shared the concertmaster position of the orchestra. I remember thinking how well the solo violins blended. It's a pity that Olof has been overshadowed over the years by his colleague.
He was born Theodor Olof Schmuckler in 1924 in Bonn. In 1933 he and his family, who were Jewish, fled Nazi Germany and set up home in the Netherlands. Theo took up the violin, studying with Oskar Back and in 1951, after securing several competition prizes, was appointed co-leader of the Hague Philharmonic with Herman Krebbers, another Back pupil. He later went on to lead the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, a post he held from 1974 until 1985. He retired from performing in 1994 and died in 2012.
These six works, "The Himalayas of violinists", stand at the summit of the repertoire, and complete cycles have been set down many times by some of the instrument's greatest exponents. It’s the music's timeless quality which stirs up this overwhelming passion both to perform them in public and record them. I must have collected between twenty and thirty sets over the years. Olof's take on them is very much a traditional one, eschewing the Baroque road. There's nothing controversial here. Tempi are comfortable and the performances are models of refinement and classical poise, informed by exceptional musicality and clarity of vision. There's a good feel for architecture and structure. Intonation generally is secure, especially in the double-stop passages. The slow movements, especially the Sarabandes, are thoughtful, probing and elegantly shaped. Perhaps my only criticism is a desire for more abandon in the faster movements.
Doremi dates the recording vaguely as c. 1974. Olof recorded a complete cycle in April 1979 at the Allemans Church in Oudkarspel, and issued it as a 3-LP set (Classical Record International CRI 180455/6/7), and it was released as a Jubilee issue to commemorate his fifty years as a violinist. I presume that this is the origin of this latest incarnation. As a point if interest, the Olof discography lists a 1967 incomplete cycle, consisting of the First Sonata and Partita on a single LP (Atone MDE S-3066).
I was interested to read in the accompanying liner that Olof amassed a pretty impressive discography. In addition to standard fare, there are several rarities, including concertos by the likes of Henkemans, Badings, Kox, Pijper, Kueris, van Delden and van Vlijmen, in addition to a raft of sonata recordings. How many of these are available, I'm not certain, but a retrospective of the artist's work would certainly be most welcome and long overdue. What is available is a recording of Henk Badings' 1954 Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra, again a collaboration with Herman Krebbers, set down in the Concertebouw, Amsterdam in the mid-1950s. It’s been issued by Forgotten Records, and my review can be read here.
Doremi’s excellent transfers are vibrant and fresh. Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf
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