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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 [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]

Theo Olof (1924-88) is best-remembered as a distinguished soloist and for his decade-long stint as leader/concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Internationally his Bach Double Concerto recordings with Hermann Krebbers - they made two - garnered him especial esteem though a look at his discography shows a raft of concerto recordings that range from Brahms to Britten and Rawsthorne and that pay particular attention to Dutch composers such as Badings, Pijper, van Delden, van Vlijman. It’s sometimes forgotten that Olof wasn’t Dutch by birth. He was raised in Bonn, fleeing with his family in 1933. His full name at birth was actually Theodor Olof Schmuckler.

Given that his status as an eminent exponent of Bach was so high, it’s of some value to be reminded of this little-known set of the solo Sonatas and Partitas. Unusually there is no documentary indication in the booklet as to the source of the set so initially I assumed they were broadcasts; Doremi is usually good about specifying LP origins and often reproduces the LP sleeve in miniature but not here. High level LP rumble, however, means that this is almost certainly from the three LP set released by Classical Record International in 1979, though complicated by the fact that Artone also brought out recordings of the sonatas and partitas – possibly the same ones - back in 1967. In any case the set has been on CD before, as a 75th birthday salute to the violinist from Vanguard in a 1999 twofer on 99061. Doremi suggests a recording date of c.1974 but maybe c.1967-74 might be more precise. Whatever the origins of these recordings, which are confusing me even as I write this, and which has doubtless confused you even more, here it is once again on CD.

Olof was a strong, direct Bachian. He wasn’t as lithe and dance-orientated as Grumiaux nor was his tone as centred but his cycle is consistently well voiced. A few minor intonation questions aside, it’s technically as accomplished as one would expect, with a perspective that enshrines a nobility of utterance allied to a measured approach to the rhythmic elements and dictates of the sonatas and partitas. Sometimes these elements are occluded – the first Double of the B minor Partita for example – but in general Olof proves a wise guide. If he lacks Grumiaux’s precision, he also avoids Devy Erlih’s occasional roughness – Erlih’s recording was made at roughly the same time and has also been reissued by Doremi. His large-scale conception of the Chaconne enshrines some strong contrasts but his playing of these works can perhaps be summed up by his gravely noble reading of the Largo of the C major sonata.

Olof’s is the opposite of a chromium-plated metronomic reading; it possesses communing gravity and occasionally a perceptibly patrician reserve. Admirers of his Double Concerto recordings would perhaps recognise a kindred sense of scale and perception in these generally well transferred readings.

Jonathan Woolf

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