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Jonathan Woolf
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 (1717–23)
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 (1717–23)
Violin Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043 (1717-23)
Partita No 2 in D minor, BWV 1004: V. Chaconne
Sonata No 3 in C major, BWV 1005 II. Fuga
Partita No 3 in E major, BWV 1006 III.Gavotte en rondeau
Ivry Gitlis (violin)
Natalia Likhopoi (second violin)
Louisiana Museum Art Ensemble
rec. 30 July 1990, Casals Hall, Tokyo; 1997, Danish Radio, Copenhagen (concertos)

This year (2022) is the centenary of Ivry Gitlis’s birth (he very nearly made it to 100) and with its latest entrant in the Gitlis Edition, Rhine Classics does his many admirers a real service by releasing previously unissued Danish Radio studio recordings. Not only that, but as Gitlis left behind a meagre Bach representation it adds significantly to it. Checking Jean-Michel Molkhou’s discography, presented in the booklet, reveals that other than the haul in this disc he only recorded the Air (twice), and made one other recording of the Chaconne. Other than that – rien du tout.

Both the A minor and E major as well as the Double Concerto were recorded in March 1997 when Gitlis was nearly 75. He’s accompanied by the Louisiana Museum Art Ensemble, a group formed – I assume – to perform at the museum, which is in Humlebœk in Denmark. The very resonant acoustic inflates the sound the group, which must have been a small one from both the sound of it and the picture reprinted in the booklet. Gitlis was ever the individualist, ever the romantic and in the A minor he keeps every flicker and phrase alive, sculpting dynamics to shade the line in the opening, whereas he uses less vibrato in the second movement, taken at a good tempo, and manages to conjure up a conversational, confessional narrative. He pumps up his vibrato usage when required and drives into a strongly voiced finale.

In trying to communicate the figuration of the E major he sometimes leaps emphatically on the first note of a phrase, or accents in unexpected places, drawing some romanticism in those lower strings. He reserves his most obviously ‘gulped’ slide for the slow movement, which I sense offers him more scope for individual tonal expression than its companion concerto. His resonant vibrato is still intact and in the finale he is very feisty, his tone production inimitable, the ethos interventionist and alive. When you reflect on the fact that Grumiaux was one year his senior you can have some idea of the stylistic and aesthetic gulf between the two men.

For the Double Concerto he is joined by the Russian-born Natalia Likhopoi, who was around 30 years old and married to Victor Tretyakov. There wasn’t much time to rehearse but there was time to talk and there are some pleasing reminiscences from her in the booklet about their meeting. Naturally Gitlis takes the first violin and it’s very evident who is playing when, as her tone is much straighter and tighter, without his resinous intensity or capricious turn of phrase. He generates a remarkable intimacy in the slow movement constantly engaging in dialogue with his partner. Unlike quite a few recordings of the Double, the finale never peters out or runs on autopilot: there’s full-blooded interplay. No, it’s not the Oistrakhs or Menuhin-Oistrakh or even Enescu-Menuhin but it is playing of communicative esprit.

The solo items come from a 1990 Tokyo recital. The Chaconne preserves a reading of razory attacks, changes in metrics and articulation and surprising use of dynamics. The Fuga from the Third Sonata witnesses some strenuous entry points and inherent instability that suggest strongly a quasi-improvisatory approach. The Gavotte en rondeau (from the Third Partita) is rather more straight down the line stylistically.

Rather like Daniil Shafran, Gitlis has a wayward, sometimes exhausting tale to tell. But it’s a tale nonetheless and his storytelling instincts inform every phrase he plays. For all sorts of reasons these performances are not for everyone but with 24bit 96kHz remastering they can certainly be recommended to Gitlis collectors who can here appreciate his generosity of heart and his warm-blooded instincts in Bach.

Jonathan Woolf

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