Bach: “Sei Solo” — Partita No.3 in E major for Violin Solo, BWV 1006

Media Review / Comparison

2023-01-14 — Original posting

Table of Contents

Introduction — The Recordings

This posting is about the Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, which Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) published under the title “Sei Solo” (see the title page above). I am comparing the over 25 recordings in my collection:

WikiWeba' = 433ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media

Weba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
a' = 415ReviewArtist, Media

Weba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
a' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
a' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
a' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
a' = 433ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 443ReviewArtist, Media

Weba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media

Weba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
a' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
1967HenrykSzeryng19181988WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
a' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
a' = 440ReviewArtist, Media

Explanations on the Table

  • You can sort the table by any specific column (in ascending or descending order) by selecting the respective title field.
  • The first field is the year when the respective recording was completed (not necessarily identical to the ℗ or © years).
  • The birth year is not known for all artists.
  • The fields “Wiki” and “Web” are links to the respective artist’s Wikipedia entry and/or personal Website.
  • The highlighted column “Review” contains links to the respective entry in the comparison section (The Interpretations, Detail) below.
  • The green column “Summary” contains links to the respective entry in the comparison summary, featuring detailed Media information, as well as notes on artist, instrument, recording, etc.

Media Information

Details about the media (CDs) are available as part of the Comparison Summary posting on Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo. That information includes cover image, title, artists, technical media information (label, label-number, booklet info, barcode, amazon link, where available, plus additional information, as deemed relevant). That summary also features an overall comparison table.

About the Partita No.3 in E major for Violin Solo, BWV 1006

Within the “Sei Solo“, the three Partitas (or Partias) for Violin Solo formally are baroque suites, i.e., a sequence of traditional dance movements. In their original form, baroque suites follow the scheme Allemande — Courante — Sarabande — Gigue. Often, a Prelude precedes that sequence. The Partita No.3 in E major for Violin Solo, BWV 1006 deviates from that standard. It only retains the opening Preludio and the closing Gigue. See the section below.

I don’t need to give a detailed introduction to these movements, as they are all well-known. However, you do find some additional information on the Partita No.3 in E major, in the review from 2019-06-02, when Isabelle Faust performed all Sonatas and Partitas, BWV 1001 – 1006, in two recitals on the same day.


Bach transcribed the entire Partita as Suite in E major, BWV 1006.2 (formerly BWV 1006s). Some postulated that this transcription is for lute (there are indeed recordings of the suite, performed on a lute, see also the CD reference at the bottom). However, newer research puts that in doubt, claiming that it may rather be for Lautenwerck, for harpsichord, or a generic transcription for an unspecified (keyboard?) instrument. The Lautenwerck is a keyboard instrument with plucked strings.

Bach also re-used the first movement (Preludio) in a transcription for obbligato organ and orchestra. The first one in his 1729 (Leipzig) Wedding Cantata “Herr Gott, Beherrscher aller Dinge” (Lord God, ruler of all things), BWV 120.2 (previously BWV 120a), as (4.) Sinfonia in D major, opening the second part. It is for organ obbligato (not written out, presumably using Bach’s transcription BWV 1006.2), two violins with oboe colla parte, viola, and continuo.

Moreover, Bach used the Preludio in the Sacred Cantata “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir” (We thank you, God, we thank you), BWV 29, as festive opening Sinfonia, again in D major, set for 3 trumpets, timpani two violins with oboe colla parte, viola, organo obbligato, and continuo. Here, the organ solo is written out.

The Movements

Bach completed his “Sei Solo” around 1720 in Köthen (Anhalt). Bach’s original manuscript (see the three images in the header section) survived to this day. There is also a beautiful manuscript, now identified as being a copy dating from 1727–32 by Bach’s second wife Anna Magdalena Bach (1701 – 1760). The facsimile of Bach’s manuscript (as well as of Anna Magdalena’s copy) can now be downloaded from IMSLP.

In lieu of explanations on the individual movements, I’m just including short excerpts from that document, showing the first 2 – 3 lines of each movement.

In case you are confused about Bach’s notation with six sharps: the score is still in E major—Bach merely duplicates the accidentals (♯) on e”’ and f”’ for the lower octave (e” and f”). Anna Magdalena Bach did the same in her autograph copy.

I. Preludio

The Preludio movement consists of one single part. There are no repeat signs.

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, I. Preludio, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, I. Preludio, score sample

Popular—and seemingly easy: superficially, it does not require extreme virtuosic skills. There are two tricky passages with alternating strings in bars #17ff and #67ff, though. Almost the entire movement is in semiquavers, with one slur in bar #2 (see the example above), and slurred notes in the last part (bars #102 – #138) only. With this, the movement can easily sound monotonous, or like a study. It really requires diligent articulation and phrasing in order to “make sense”.

Interestingly, in this comparison, there seems to be a clear divide between 19 interpretations taking between 3’38” and 4’16”, and a group of 7 distinctly faster interpretations occupying the narrow range between 3’14” and 3’20”.

II. Loure

The Loure consists of two parts, each with repeat signs.

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, II. Loure, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, II. Loure, score sample

The movement should retain some dance character, which may be hard or impossible to achieve if the tempo is too slow. Too fast a pace, however, does not fit the character of a Loure, which is known to be a slow and measured dance.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau

The first 8 bars (Rondo theme) are repeated, the rest of the movement has no repeat signs. It is in split time (2/2, alla breve):

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, III. Gavotte en Rondeau, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, III. Gavotte en Rondeau, score sample

There are 5 instances of the Rondo theme (the first one repeated, as mentioned above), starting at bars #1, #16, #40, #63, and #92. The last one is also ending the movement. In-between these ritornels there are four episodes, all more or less related to, or derived from the main theme.

The key in this movement is in agogics, articulation, rhythmic swaying / flexibility, dance character. The timing is a bad indicator for the outcome in the comparison. Top, historically informed performances stand between conventional / traditional ones, and the like. In fact, with one exception (Thomas Zehetmair), the overall timing in this movement is amazingly uniform throughout the musicians.

IV. Menuet I

Both Menuets feature two parts, each with repeat signs.

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, IV. Menuet I, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, IV. Menuet I, score sample

V. Menuet II

See Menuet I. Typically, one expects Menuet I to be played again after Menuet II. And most artists do exactly that (most without repeats in the da capo instance). Note, however, that the manuscript has no da capo instruction. This may be an accidental omission. I think we simply don’t know. In any case, we can’t blame artists who omit the da capo instance of Menuet I entirely.

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, V. Menuet II, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, V. Menuet II, score sample

My personal take on the question “Da capo or not?” is as follows: from baroque to classic times, there are examples where two instances of a Menuet movement surround a musette-like piece (such as Bach’s Menuet II in this Partita). In my memory, this tradition is strong enough to make me expect a second instance of Menuet I after the musette. Repeats are typically omitted in the Da capo, as this is merely a “reminiscence”.

VI. Bourrée

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, VI. Bourrée, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, VI. Bourrée, score sample

Both the Bourrée and the Gigue feature two parts, each with repeat signs.

VII. Gigue

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, VII. Gigue, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.3 for Violin Solo in E major, BWV 1006, VII. Gigue, score sample

From Bach’s Gigue (or Giga) movements, e.g., in the Cello Suites, BWV 1007 – 1012, or in the Partita No.2 for Violin Solo, BWV 1004, or in Bach’s keyboard works, one can conclude that Gigues are not necessarily very fast or virtuosic. However, they typically are either joyful (if not festive), or capricious (especially those in minor keys), or (keyboard works only) they are of the traditional kind with fugato structure. To me, the above Gigue is definitely among the joyful ones.

To the composer, this movement was not the “crowning” of the Sei Solo (that honor goes to the Chaconne in Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004, or to the Fuga in Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005). However, it still concludes one of Bach’s great and unique masterworks. With this, interpretations with attributes such as “gentle” or “inconspicuous” don’t suit the purpose.

The digitized autograph is available from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz. This document is in the public domain and shared under a Creative Commons (CC-BY 4.0) International License. It is free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

The Interpretations, Overview

In order to provide a rating overview, as well as an idea about duration relations between the recordings, I have prepared the table below. Note that the color coding for the duration (blue = longer/slower, red = shorter/faster) refers to the average between the recordings.

Bach: Partita No.3 in E major for Violin Solo, BWV 1006 — comparison table (© Rolf Kyburz)
Bach: Partita No.3 in E major for Violin Solo, BWV 1006 — comparison table (© Rolf Kyburz)

I have not corrected the timings for trailing or leading blank time, with the one exception of the last movement, Gigue, where trailing blank time is subtracted. Therefore, the timings in the above table should be read with a grain of salt.


Not all artists perform all repeats. In the cases where repeats were omitted (movements II, IV/V, VI, VII), the track durations can’t be used as indicator for the tempo. Therefore, I corrected these durations in the table (adding the time for the repeat parts to the track duration). In that sense, the overall duration (second-to-last column) is to be read as “if the artist had performed all repeats. The times for Menuet II in the table above of course does not include a Menuet I da capo (if performed at all). For the actual track and overall durations please see the section below. These may differ from the numbers in liner notes: I’m ripping the recording into Apple Music and use the times in the player software, which may use different rounding algorithms.

A Note on Ratings

First and foremost: all my ratings reflect my personal opinion, hence are inherently subjective. I use a 1 – 5 star rating scheme—simply because that’s what my player software (Apple Music) offers. I use the same scheme for concert reviews. You will note that for these, there are rarely reviews below a 3.0 (★★★) rating. That’s largely because I try to avoid concerts where I anticipate a marginal performance. And I stick to an “absolute” scale, where results below 3.0 are negative.

Ratings in Media Comparisons

In media comparisons, especially reviews involving a large number of recordings, I tend to use a relative scale covering the full range of (close to) ★ … ★★★★★, in order to achieve more differentiation among the many ratings. My rating criteria are similar to the ones in concert, such as

  • does the performance reflect the notation, i.e., the composer’s (perceived) intent?
  • does it present the character of the piece (e.g., in the dance movements in Partitas)?

Personal Views

My ratings also reflect how much a recording offers to me, personally, particularly as a listener with interest in historically informed (HIP) performances. With this, I tend to give preference to HIP recordings. I do not mean to devalue the achievements of historic recordings by the great artists of the last century. However, time has moved on, and it is my belief that the in-depth encounter with HIP performances makes it hard(er) to enjoy some of the traditional recordings, especially romantic ones with heavy vibrato, etc. Again: this is my personal view, and I don’t mean to spoil the pleasure that the fans of past great violinists draw from their recordings.


I should also mention that audiophile arguments play a secondary role in my ratings. My primary focus is on the interpretation, not perfection in recording technique. The latter comes into play mainly where it affects the audibility, clarity and transparency, e.g., through excess reverberation. And for newer recordings, blatantly dull, “muffled” sound should also have an effect on the rating.

The Interpretations, Detail

The review comments below are sorted by recording year, from the oldest (1934) to the most recent one (2020). Note: for the artist’s life data, Website and/or Wikipedia entries please see the first table above. Note: in the artist segments below, the pitch is mentioned only where it deviates from a’ = 440 Hz.

Procedure, Technical Aspects

I listen to all recordings in full, typically even more than once. Note that the sequence of recordings below is not the sequence in which I listen to them. I have written about my comparison approach in an early blog post. In essence:

  • I go though the collection movement by movement, i.e., I start with listening to the first movement with all recordings before progressing to the next movement.
  • I try to choose a sequence that does not put subsequent recordings at a disadvantage. Typically, I start with slow performances, progressing to faster ones. At the same time, I try using a suitable sequence of historic vs. “conventional” vs. HIP interpretations.
  • Especially in large comparisons, such as this one, the sequence will typically vary from movement to movement.
  • In the sequence in which I listen to the tracks, I typically “just” move forward. If I relate to other interpretations, I refer to recordings I listened to previously, irrespective of the time of the recording. In other words: for older recordings I may may use comparisons to interpretations of artists who may not even have been alive at the time of the early version. That may occasionally sound strange. However, in the interest of efficiency, I can’t risk “jumping around” to amend comments that I have already written.
  • Naturally, my comments will mostly refer to the recordings immediately preceding the one I’m writing about—in the listening sequence for that given movement (it is impossible to memorize all performances in detail). However, I try my very best to make the ratings absolute, not relative.


It is a few months since my last review in this series. I try not to delay these reviews too much. However, the delay has the advantage that I can approach this review without bias from the preceding ones. I apologize for duplication with earlier reviews. One benefit of the text duplications is that they help making each review readable by itself, without an excess of cross-links to other postings.

Final, General Remarks

Irrespective of whether the two Menuets are on the same track or not, I’m rating the two movements separately. Also: I’m frequently using the term Klangrede, once coined by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929 – 2016). For an explanation on that term and its origin see (Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 1983).

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Yehudi Menuhin (CD cover)

Pitch: a’ = 433 Hz.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’51”)

The articulation is clean, although fairly mechanical and monotonous. In addition, there is a certain tendency to accelerate over longer segments. Yet, there are some limited agogics, and there is dynamic differentiation. However, overall, today, the accelerations sound odd, and the performance does have a certain “Étude taste” that makes it sound old-fashioned.

II. Loure (3’51”, first repeat not performed)

This is one of two instances (the other one is with the Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003) where Menuhin omits the first repeat. No other artist does that anywhere. An accidental omission, caused by the artist performing by heart? People must have realized this, but repeating the recording may have been regarded difficult, or not worth the effort.

Menuhin’s vibrato is rather strong, ubiquitous and nervous for a slow movement. However, after Szigeti, Khachatryan, and Szeryng (moving from slow to fast(er)), he is the first one to create a sense of slow dance, and his melodic-dynamic phrasing is far more natural, more resembling slow breathing. With all the stylistic distance (of more than 80 years since he recorded this!), I see a distinct sense of beauty and intensity in his playing. Menuhin’s most beautiful movement so far, in all the Sonatas and Partitas?

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’02”)

From today’s perspective, on the whole Menuhin’s articulation is not devoid of arbitrariness, changing from brief staccato to very broad (if not near-legato), and of course all soaked with nervous vibrato. There is variation, and each segment (refrain, episode) is internally consistent. Still, there is no dance character, the rhythmic framework rather rigid.

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (4’07”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Menuet I: Menuhin’s pace is almost identical to Isabelle Faust’s—but the two interpretations could hardly be more different! Every single note is an emphatic, broad bow stroke (and filled with vibrato, needless to say). Moreover, Menuhin moves forward, through the piece relentlessly, like a tank. The only “relief” is in the slightly softer, gentler playing in the linear quaver section (bars #19ff).

I noted a particular quirk with this performance: as Menuhin firmly leaves the bow on the string, he runs into a problem where there are three quavers in the downstroke, but a single quaver in the upstroke. In the upstroke, he needs to return the bow close to the frog. There are several instances where that upstroke turns out as an unwanted / undesirable accent.

Menuet II: Much easier to listen to and appreciate than Menuet I: soft, even subtle, gentle. If we just could “subtract” the vibrato and add some agogics (dance swaying)…

VI. Bourrée (1’34”)

Not surprisingly, mostly broad articulation. Somewhat relentless, not allowing for relaxing moments, e.g., at the end of a phrase. However, Menuhin does differentiate dynamically, for the purpose of phrasing. One of his better movements, even in comparison to newer recordings.

VII. Gigue (1’58”)

Among the traditional performances (Menuhin 1934, Szigeti 1956, Szeryng 1967, Grumiaux 1961), Menuhin featured the broadest, most even articulation in this movement. Szeryng’s vibrato is stronger and more pervasive. Menuhin’s dynamics are limited to two levels, more or less, and in the repeat of the second half, he appears to lose momentum—however, that’s just his very broad, extended ritardando, up to an emphatic fermata.

Total Duration: 18’22”

Rating: 2 / 3 / 2 / 2 / 2 / 3 / 3 = 2.43

Comment: A precious historic document, very obviously—which one should not juxtapose to newer recordings. Apart from that people with special interest in menuhin and/or historic performances in general, I can’t recommend this—certainly not as first (let alone only) recording, maybe not even as second, alternative choice.

Let me add a personal note here: several times in the early ’70s, I heard Menuhin perform live on TV. And every time, I felt that the artist should refrain from performing in public, as his technique had clearly degraded to the point where his performances no longer were a pleasure to listen to. This was not with difficult, challenging pieces, but with short movements from Partita No.3 (Gavotte en rondeau, the Menuets, Bourrée). What I can say for sure is, that his performance in this recording from over 85 years ago has very little to do with what I experienced around 1971 – 1973.

The only time I heard him live in concert was in spring 1972 in Zurich, where he performed Bach’s violin concerto in d minor, BWV 1052 (typically known as harpsichord concerto). I don’t remember details about his performance in the concerto, but he offered one or two encores—again from the movements mentioned above, from this Partita. And my impression was in line with that of his performances on TV from around that time.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Joseph Szigeti (CD cover)

Joseph Szigeti, 1956

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’58”)

Szigeti starts decidedly, clear—and relatively slow—much slower than the timing would suggest. That contradiction is soon resolved: from the point where the score is double quavers only, the artist starts accelerating. The articulation is clean and careful in general (cleaner than Giuliano Carmignola’s, and less motoric / mechanical than Henryk Szeryng’s, actually), however not always following Bach’s notation (e.g., the slurred e”’—d”’♯—c”’♯ in bars #10 and #12). One of Szigeti’s best movements. My main reservation is with the inconsistency in the tempo. I would not call these instabilities, as (I believe) they are intentional (and somewhat arbitrary, i.e., without justification by Bach’s notation).

II. Loure (4’18”, second repeat not performed)

A glacial tempo, devoid of dance feeling, of course, and all drowning in an unctuous, broad vibrato that today is really hard to listen to. The vibrato is so heavy that it affects the intonation. Yet, Szigeti does play out melodies. Sadly, the tempo is at the point where following melodies becomes hard.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’24”)

Szigeti’s articulation feels extremely resolute—at times like military commands. The artist often uses short staccato, especially in lighter notes. For emphasized notes, in contrast, the articulation often gets broad(er), with the addition of Szigeti’s heavy vibrato. There is barely any dance feeling, and some of the ritardandi are rather pathetic.

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (5’40”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Menuet I: sorry, no, impossible. Not a dance. Impossibly slow, static, heavy, clumsy, stiff, rigid. And the vibrato! Close to unbearable.

Menuet II: Much, much better! At least in the first part, Szigeti’s interpretation is gently flowing, intimate, warm-hearted. The second part gives up on some of these features, but (despite some romanticism, such as vibrato and portamento, etc.) is still better than Menuet I.

VI. Bourrée (1’42”)

Utterly motoric, and it even at times feels played in crotchets, like in 4/4 time. And why the four spiccato quavers in bars #28/#29?Not much joy.

VII. Gigue (1’58”)

This stands apart from the other traditional recordings (Menuhin 1934, Szeryng 1967, Grumiaux 1961), through its (often) almost harsh, near-staccato articulation, which dominates most of the performance.

Total Duration: 20’59”

Rating: 3 / 2 / 2 / [1 / 2] / 1 / 2 = 1.86

Comment: Among the traditional recordings, this one suffers the particular disadvantage of having happened far too late in the artist’s career.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Arthur Grumiaux (CD cover)

Arthur Grumiaux, 1961

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001. Arthur Grumiaux consequently leaves out all second repeats.

I. Preludio (3’48”)

Beautiful tone, careful, but not very detailed in the articulation and phrasing. Little agogics (if any), rather monotonous and relentless (sometimes urging) in the pace. In terms of dynamics, large arches dominate. However, besides Bach’s explicit echo contrasts, there is little differentiation.

II. Loure (2’48”, second repeat not performed)

Dance swaying, but not short-breathed. Rather, Grumiaux thinks in beautiful, long melodic phrases. There is constant, melodic flow—unfortunately with Grumiaux’ permanent, prominent and fairly nervous vibrato, which tends to “turn me off”.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’56”)

The only / main variation in the tempo is in ritardandi at the end of an episode or refrain. Apart from the trembling vibrato and the striking absence of dance agogics, Grumiaux plays this well, clean, with a beautiful tone—just way too uniformly / monotonously, and relentlessly.

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II (2’33”, second repeats not performed, no Menuet I da capo)

Menuet I: Like Thomas Pietsch, Arthur Grumiaux shares the timing in the first Menuet with Giuliano Carmignola. With these two, Grumiaux also shares the rhythmic inflexibility / stiffness, the absence of agogic swaying. At least, the performance is not stomping as much as some others. Still: barely a dance, even less a Menuet.

Menuet II: The Menuet II follows the same, dull tracks as the first one—thankfully, it is dynamically much flatter than Carmignola’s—just some big, gentle, blooming arches (8 bars each in the first part, a single arch in the second part).

VI. Bourrée (1’14”, second repeat not performed)

Grumiaux does observe Bach’s p and f annotations, as well as all of the composer’s slurs, and the tone is beautiful, flawless, as usual with this artist. However, beyond that, apart from the ending ritardando, the violinist stubbornly, motorically sticks to a rigid pace of 1/2 = 98, throughout the piece, as if he was obeying a metronome.

VII. Gigue (1’31”, second repeat not performed)

Yes, a traditional performance—however, it at least features a beautiful violin tone, bright, vibrant sonority. And the interpretation is a joyful conclusion to the “Sei Solo“.

Total Duration: 14’50”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 3 / [2 / 3] / 2 / 3 = 2.71

Comment: Grumiaux’ playing exhibits all features (and quirks) of a traditional performance 70 years ago. However, he has a nice, elastic tone (a little too much vibrato, though). I prefer him over Szeryng and several others.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Henryk Szeryng (CD cover)

Henryk Szeryng, 1967

Instrument: 1744 violin “Leduc” by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (1698 – 1744), Cremona.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001. Henryk Szeryng consequently leaves out all second repeats.

I. Preludio (4’02”)

A traditional, or rather old-fashioned performance. Clean in articulation and intonation, duly following Bach’s dynamic annotations (p / f contrasts). However, I miss (almost) all musicality: Szeryng ignores agogics, runs through the piece with the regularity of a sewing machine, unabashed, relentless (the only exception: the ritardando at the end). No pleasure to listen, let alone joy.

II. Loure (3’26”, second repeat not performed)

Not surprisingly, Szeryng applies a ubiquitous vibrato—more natural, not as heavy as Szigeti’s, not as nervous as Khachatryan’s, but (to me) still strong enough to irritate. At the very least, it sounds monotonous—as does Szeryng’s broad, near-legato articulation. This creates an endless, hardly structured melodic flow: momentarily nice, maybe—but shouldn’t there be some “verse” structure to the song, some “melodic breath” besides the half-minute arches? And what about a dance feeling?

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’10”)

Stiff, rigid in articulation and rhythm, almost like after a metronome, except for minimal ritardandi at the end of a phrase. Some of the episodes is noticeably faster or accelerating—why? Otherwise, Szeryng is meticulously following the notation: there isn’t much—if anything—baroque about this interpretation.

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II (2’32”, second repeats not performed, no Menuet I da capo)

Menuet I: “baa-bada-baa-baa-badaba”—all in broadest-possible, near-legato strokes. Dynamically flat, i.e., all f, except for a slightly softer linear part in bars 18ff. Slow, static, devoid of dance swaying, or agogics in general. Not just old-fashioned, but weird.

Menuet II: at least, the second Menuet is a tad faster, lighter. I just don’t quite understand why on top of that, the artist (slightly) accelerates towards the end.

VI. Bourrée (1’12”, second repeat not performed)

On average, Szeryng is a tad faster than Arthur Grumiaux. Not at the beginning, but there is a gradual acceleration across the movement. To his benefit: Szering’s pace isn’t quite as strict and rigid / motoric as Grumiaux’, his playing much more elastic in dynamics and articulation, more vibrant in the tone. Still fairly relentless, of course.

VII. Gigue (1’35”, second repeat not performed)

Interestingly, all the traditional performances (Menuhin 1934, Szigeti 1956, Szeryng 1967, Grumiaux 1961) feature almost exactly the same tempo. The uniformity of tradition? Of course, they all retain their characteristics in other areas. In Szeryng’s case, this is his broad, elastic articulation, the substantial amount of vibrato on all quavers and longer notes. However, even though his articulation and the absence of agogics may sound uniform, if not boring today, Szeryng’s phrasing (using differentiated dynamics) make up for a conclusive view of this movement. Not his worst movement, for sure.

Total Duration: 15’57”

Rating: 2 / 2 / 2 / [1 / 3] / 3 / 3 = 2.29

Comment: Certainly one of the world’s most prominent violinists in the ’50s and ’60s of the last century, I would no longer dare recommending him now—certainly not for his Bach performances. That’s not just a question of performance style, but of the failure to uncover the richness of agogics and “local articulation”—Klangrede, in other words.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Gidon Kremer, 1980 (CD cover)

Gidon Kremer, 1980

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’19”)

Albeit fast, Kremer’s 1980 interpretation does not feel extremely rushed, thanks to his technical mastership. Nevertheless, it is relentless, highly / excessively active, almost hectic in some details—not untypical of Kremer’s playing at that time. In its roots, it is clearly a traditional interpretation, almost devoid of agogics, just (overly busily) striving forward. Beauty of sound, smoothness and perfection are not the goal here.

II. Loure (3’34”)

1980, Gidon Kremer’s interpretation was a tad faster than in his 2001 recording—maybe at the limit of what is still in agreement with the character of a Loure. The tempo is the least of the differences, though. Here, Kremer not only applied far more vibrato, but also the articulation was broader, more lyrical, much closer to legato. Simply put: the performance is closer to traditional interpretations, showing the influence of Kremer’s teachers, namely David Oistrakh (1908 – 1974). This interpretation is certainly less radical than the more recent one—but still internally very consistent, impressive, masterful.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’46”)

A primary feature in this interpretation are the extreme tempo variations (rubato?) a measured beginning of the theme, then suddenly much faster. These extremes continue throughout the movement, through refrains and episodes. What’s the point? These tempo alterations also kill any thought about baroque dance movement of Gavotte. Extreme. Sure, the artist has no technical issues with the movement, irrespective of tempo…

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (3’53”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Not surprisingly, another movement showing the still strong influence from the artist’s musical forefathers:

Menuet I: In the chordic segments, Kremer is very emphatic, rhythmically rigid, putting an accent on every crotched—not really dance-, let alone Menuet-like. The linear quaver segments form a strong contrast: restrained, soft, mellow, flowing—but also devoid of dance swaying.

Menuet II: The second Menuet is far less extreme—a nice, reflective piece (at least the first part), playful and serene in the second part. However, it neither offers traces of a dance feeling, nor does it in any way match what I perceive as typical Menuet. But yes, Gidon Kremer obviously had a clear, strong vision of how he meant to perform this piece!

VI. Bourrée (1’17”)

Very fast—a little too fast / pushed. Oftentimes, the prime focus seems to be on tempo. Sure, the playing is technically excellent—and I often wished, there was a little more time to listen to and enjoy details, other than just having this sensation of a speed competition…

VII. Gigue (1’47”)

Compared to his 2001 recording, Kremer was not just closer to traditional interpretations in general, he also was a tad faster, more expressive (using much more vibrato, of course), more eruptive & wild, highly engaged. On the other hand, he hadn’t yet found the “trick” with the little hesitation into the slurred quavers in the opening motif…

Total Duration: 16’36”

Rating: 4 / 4 / 2 / [3 / 3] / 4 / 4 = 3.43

Comment: Already Kremer’s 1980 recording was very good. It’s an excellent choice for people who prefer pre-HIP recordings—definitely preferable over most of the older, traditional recordings.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Thomas Zehetmair (CD cover)

Thomas Zehetmair, 1982

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’38”)

Vivid, lively, detailed in agogics, articulation, dynamics and phrasing. There are rare instances where the articulation appears a tad “mingled up”, and there are the occasional peculiarities in stretched notes which are not peak or ending notes in a phrase or motif, as well as a slight tendency towards extraneous (subtle) syncopations and emphatic dynamic bursts. Arguably interesting, but hardly justifiable from the autograph.

II. Loure (3’19”)

Too much vibrato, even occasional portamento (or improper approaches to a tone), and an articulation that varies between light and lyrical / near-legato, a view between simplicity and romantic, between relaxed and impatient / urging. Experimental? Audacious? Adventurous? Not successful, in my view.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’29”)

There may be rhythmic and agogic swaying—but Thomas Zehetmair’s performance is way too fast! Looking through his interpretation, speed (& being the fastest?) appears to be a primary goal of this artist! A Gavotte? No way! I would not even label the outcome as baroque music. Yes, it’s played well, and never even a bit out of control—astounding, even fascinating, but that’s not the point here! I’m tempted to view this as a dance in entire bars: that may actually work!

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II (2’54”, no Menuet I da capo)

Menuet I: The fastest of the interpretations, far from a comfy menuet. However, there is rhythmic and dynamic swaying, Zehetmair’s playing is highly expressive, and yet devoid of romanticism, sticking to the pace and allowing for agogic swaying. There’s the occasional articulation extravaganza, such as broad notes on the first tone in a motif, or the broad legato crotchets on beats 2 & 3 in bar #15, or the occasional ultra-short (spiccato) staccato. Overall, I definitely like this interpretation, even though it hardly resembles any of today’s historically informed interpretations.

Menuet II: See also Menuet I above. On top of that: the word “capricious” comes to mind, in several aspects. The first one is about the musette (hurdy-gurdy) segments. Very few artists manage a smooth, flat drone tone. That’s technically very hard to achieve—and probably not necessary (on a hurdy-gurdy, the drones largely follow the dynamics and the articulation of the melody line). No other artist does what Thomas Zehetmair did. He only touches the drone on the first crotchet, then leaves it at that—to the imagination, so to say, as the resonance vanishes instantly (with one exception, the drones are not on empty strings).

One might also call the short staccato (spiccato) articulation on the détaché quavers capricious. Obviously, that’s a feature that is to some degree tied to the use of a modern (Tourte-type) bow.

Despite my penchant for period instruments and historically informed performances: I can’t deny that I like Zehetmair’s take on the Menuets!

VI. Bourrée (1’18”)

Fast, highly engaged, detailed in phrasing, articulation and dynamics, technically excellent. The timing is identical to Isabelle Faust‘s, but this one is a bit “wilder”, more eruptive—though rarely rough or coarse (and if so, only in short upstrokes in rapid passages—nothing to worry about). What differentiates Zehetmair from Isabelle Faust is, that he tends to use shorter phrases, i.e., his phrasing feels a tad more fragmented.

VII. Gigue (1’43”)

The most lively, most vivid agogics so far—almost exaggerated! Rich in dynamics, detailed in the articulation, fast on average, very fast in the fastest moments. Close to extreme, but excellent in articulation, technically clean—love it!

Total Duration: 15’23”

Rating: 3 / 2 / 3 / [4 / 4] / 5 / 5 = 3.71

Comment: A daring, if not risky, highly expressive, often extreme interpretation. Not equally successful in all movements.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Jaap Schröder (CD cover)

Jaap Schröder, 1985

Instrument: Dutch baroque violin; baroque bow. Pitch: a’ = 415 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (4’16”)

The most moderate of the performances in the tempo. Jaap Schröder differentiates in the articulation. There definitely is Klangrede, e.g., subtle broadening of phrase highlights—in articulation and agogics. The tone is clear, as is the articulation—mostly: in bars #1 and #2, the quaver articulation appears vaguely defined, as if the artist was pondering whether to play staccato or something that sounds close to portato. Also, the intonation, the tonal definition often feels a tad marginal.

II. Loure (3’14”)

On the fast side. There is limited dance swaying, but it seems too uniform, a tad rigid / systematic, and the same applies to the extra ornaments and the dynamics. An example of an early HIP performance that has long been superseded by more recent performances. From today’s perspective, it lacks dynamic differentiation, subtlety, flexibility in the agogics: hardly what I view as a “proper” Loure.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’12”)

A performance with good HIP intent—though a bit too didactic / demonstrative, and often a tad stodgy. There are very few extra, small ornaments, very scarce, one recurring several times (the ascending acciaccatura on the final note in the theme). Often, the focus is too much on the articulation of minute motifs, rather than on phrases.

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (5’09”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Menuet I: Nice sonority! However, it is far too rigid, square, also too slow—devoid of dance feeling.

Menuet II: I can’t say that articulation and dynamics are all bad—but the pace is too slow here as well. Not really a Menuet, nor even a folksy musette. I totally miss agogic swaying, as well as phrasing beyond small motifs.

VI. Bourrée (1’35”)

The pace is virtually identical to that of Christine Busch and Giuliano Carmignola. In contrast to the former, however, the interpretation feels slightly fragmented, as the artist tends to “start anew” for every phrase. That disruption is small, but noticeable enough to disrupt the flow (ever so slightly).

VII. Gigue (1’55”)

Tempo-wise, Jaap Schröder stayed close to all the traditional performances (Menuhin 1934, Szigeti 1956, Szeryng 1967, Grumiaux 1961)—the last one in my sequence (from slow to fast(er)) with a pace below the average. What differentiates Schröder from the tradition is his lighter articulation, maybe the (scarce) extra ornament, the absence of a pronounced ritardando.

Total Duration: 19’20”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 3 / [2 / 2] / 3 / 4 = 3.00

Comment: This recording is probably starting to become a historic document, as an example for early historically informed (HIP) performances. If you are interested in those (apart from interest in performance history of Bach’s “Sei Solo“), there are several, more recent performances that I prefer over this one.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Vito Paternoster, cello (CD cover)

Vito Paternoster, 1995 (Cello, A major)

Instrument: 1792 cello by Lorenzo Carcassi (1737 – 1775), Florence. Pitch: a’ = 443 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’15”)

Vito Paternoster’s cello playing beats Attila Aldemir’s interpretation on the viola in terms of agility. In fact, along with Alina Ibragimova’s 2008 recording, this is the fastest performance—and it remains amazingly clean and clear! Albeit very fast, the interpretation never feels mechanical or motoric. The basic cello sonority is beautiful, though at this pace, it is occasionally bordering on noisiness. The artist shapes every phrase—dramatic, full of life, enthralling! True, in many passages one wished for a slightly slower pace, which would allow for the artist to give more sonority, definition and detail to individual motifs. Still, an interesting interpretation, but slightly above the limit, maybe.

The cello transcription adds some text alterations in bars #113ff—nothing major, and hardly noticeable to people who are not intimately familiar with the movement.

II. Loure (3’09”)

I think the cello would offer an excellent chance to play out the lyrical, chant-like character of a Loure. By choosing a relatively fast pace (clearly the fastest here), Vito Paternoster declines this opportunity. His playing is too much focused on local motifs in articulation, agogics, dynamics. With this—despite the fast pace—the interpretation feels fragmented, lacking persistent flow and dance swaying. And the instrument exhibits the challenges of the transcription: the intonation in multi-stop passages is sometimes marginal.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’04”)

Vito Paternoster does an excellent job at matching the dance character of this piece—and he is only partly successful. For one, many of the bass notes are too short to develop sonority, sometimes stay vaguely defined. And once more, the intonation isn’t always quite perfect. In general, it seems to me that the heavier character of the cello is a bad match for a light, joyful folk dance. The extra challenges of playing this movement on a cello are also apparent from the need to slow down certain passages. It’s not at all bad, but…

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (3’48”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Menuet I: The cello has issues here—not to its advantage. At least at the chosen pace, arpeggiated chords with notes on the C and G strings often not only lack sonority, but also tonal definition. And it appears that the pace also leads to superficialities in the intonation, especially in arpeggiated chords. Moreover, Vito Paternoster repeatedly disrupts the rhythmic flow in the middle of a quaver motif, as if he needed some time to breathe. To me, this hampers the dance character of the piece.

Menuet II: The first part appears somewhat fragmented / short-breathed, as the artist breaks the hurdy-gurdy sections into 2-bar phrases. The second part sounds capricious rather than Menuet-like, also lacking some dance character. And again here, the intonation is occasionally marginal (albeit definitely better than in Menuet I).

VI. Bourrée (1’42”)

Joyful, rich in colors, full of life and details in articulation, dynamics and sonority: beautiful and interesting. One interesting detail: in bars #9 and #11, Vito Paternoster doubles the two “a” peak notes (e” on the violin) with the empty “a” string, which added color and the desired focus / accent. On top of that, he also touches the “a” string together with the first note (d♯, a‘♯ in the original violin score) of the subsequent bars #10 and #12. That yields diminished fifth, i.e., a tritonus: a strong dissonance that can hardly have been Bach’s intent. Interestingly, in Vito Paternoster’s performance, that is completely inconspicuous!

VII. Gigue (1’41”)

A joyful and vivid approach—and highly virtuosic on the cello! I suspect that this is just a little too fast, given the occasional, slight superficialities in articulation and (rarely) intonation. Some passages on the low strings are somewhat noisy, also featuring marginal sonority. Aiming high…

Total Duration: 16’39”

Rating: 4 / 2 / 3 / [2 / 2] / 4 / 3 = 2.86

Comment: the idea of transcribing Bach’s “Sei Solo” for the cello is intriguing—and inherently challenging. From a purely technical point-of-view, not all movements are equally suited for the bigger instrument. Moreover, had Bach written this for the cello, he most likely would have taken into consideration the specific sonority and the slower response time on the C and G strings. Vito Paternoster does not want to be stopped by these issues—he often performs at a pace faster than most violinists in this comparison. Not always to the benefit of the music. It’s an interesting experience, nevertheless!

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Monica Huggett (CD cover)

Monica Huggett, 1997

Instrument: 1618 violin by Antonius & Hieronymus Amati, i.e., Antonio Amati (1540 – 1607) and Girolamo Amati (1561 – 1730), Cremona. Pitch: a’ = 415 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (4’12”)

“Perverted agogics”: Monica Huggett not only uses occasional, exaggerated ritenuti, but (worse than that), she tends to use excessive agogic tempo variations within single (semiquaver) bars (faster in the center), especially in bars where the melody alternates with constant tones on a different string. The first instance is already in bar #3, and this persists throughout the movement. The exaggerated agogics disrupt the musical flow, the performance feels rather nervous. Occasionally, the articulation is a tad careless.

II. Loure (3’47”)

Exaggerated belly notes / accents in every half-bar phrase, and the articulation / phrasing reinforces the impression of a short-breathed performance. There is agogic swaying in every little phrase—yet, the artist does not manage to establish a dance feeling. Lack of larger-scale swaying? Actually, vibrato is used often—it is not overly strong in amplitude, but rather nervous.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’36”)

I don’t really know what to think of this interpretation. Monica Huggett articulates carefully and clearly, the sound is that of a period instrument, with a largely inconspicuous vibrato.

From the timing, this is the longest interpretation. The tempo is rather slow, indeed, probably too slow for a Gavotte. However, that’s not the main issue here. The first instance of the theme, as well as its repetition are fine, maybe a bit rigid, stiff. There is the Gavotte rhythm with two accents per bar, but I don’t really sense “dance swaying”. The tempo variations within the theme rather feel like subtle instabilities in the pace.

That impression gets even stronger in the parts that follow, especially the episodes: not just often arbitrary instabilities in the pace, but frequent, sudden (small) hold-ups / ritenuti. Such playing may be appropriate for certain pieces. In a dance movement, however, I expect some regularity / predictability in the agogic swaying (no, not mechanic evenness!). After all, people are supposed to move along with the music!

The second instance of the theme (after the first episode) has a little ornament added in the fifth bar. The third instance has no extra ornament, instance #4 repeats the ornament from the second ritornel. Only the final theme instance is filled to the rim with fioriture. Really nice, but why is there such a contrast in the amount of ornamentation?

IV. Menuet I (1’54”)

In coming from the slowest (Menuet I) performances, this is #5 out of 26, and it is the first one with a slight “dance feeling”. And in line with how I perceive the nature of a Menuet, Monica Hugget plays this gently, with light, elegant articulation—lovely. The dance swaying doesn’t quite persist across the movement, though, as the artist tends to disrupt the flow in front of highlights, or particularly for arpeggiated chords.

V. Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (2’55”, Menuet I da capo with first repeat)

Played nicely, gently, not devoid of agogics, but without noticeable dance swaying, let alone “folksy” traits. The tempo is about the same as in the first Menuet. The above remarks about flow disruptions for highlighted notes and arpeggiated chords applies here as well.

VI. Bourrée (1’44”)

The performance is very much felt in half-bar units. Formally, that’s correct for a “2(/2)” time annotation. However, that’s just to differentiated from playing in full bars, or in crotchets (4/4), and it can’t possibly mean that most half-bar motifs ought to be isolated. Here, the playing sounds rather short-breathed, fragmented from the little gaps between many motifs. At p and f annotations, the gap is even a little bigger, which further disrupts the flow. There is agogic swaying—but that serves no purpose if the flow is as irregular as here.

VII. Gigue (1’44”)

Almost identical in timing to Thomas Pietsch and Amandine Beyer, Monica Huggett’s performance indeed shares similarities. There are occasional, subtle superficialities in the articulation (hasty motifs), and somewhat of an excess forward urge, excess busyness. I prefer a slightly more relaxed (not necessarily slower) approach.

Total Duration: 19’52”

Rating: 3 / 2 / 3 / 3 / 3 / 2 / 3 = 2.71

Comment: Even though time-wise it isn’t, I consider this an early HIP recording, at best top compare to Jaap Schröder‘s. I prefer the latter—and of course even (much) more so the most recent of the historically informed performances.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Rachel Podger (CD cover)

Rachel Podger, 1999

Instrument: 1739 “re-baroqued” violin by Pesarinius, Genoa; baroque bow. Pitch: a’ = 415 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’39”)

Rachel Podger’s interpretation feels very fluid, if not fast, with a slight tendency towards “noisiness”. The dynamics have a tendency for “uncontrolled” outbursts. The noisiness stems from Podger’s articulation, which often approaches spiccato. This exposes the sounds from the interaction between bow and strings. Nice, proper “period soundscape”, sure—my personal preference would have been in more focus on Klangrede / agogics at the level of motifs. And albeit the tempo is not excessive, I often sense a feeling of relentlessness, of being driven, sometimes lacking the time to enjoy the moment…

II. Loure (4’12”)

Too bad: a performance with minimal vibrato, but full of belly notes, monotonously placed, some really, prominently standing out. Despite the calm pace, this feels short-breathed, there is little sense for larger arches / phrases. The nice sonority of the instrument and the extra ornaments in the repeats can’t compensate for these shortcomings.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’43”)

A pretty wild, almost whirling dance—for a Gavotte! Why so fast? Why not more dance swaying? And why these poignant / conspicuous belly accents on half notes at the end of a phrase? On the other hand, there are also many nice features in the articulation. There are a few ornaments in the repeat theme, none otherwise, with one big exception: I concede that I like how Rachel Podger turns the final refrain into a single, long and curly ornament: that made me smile!

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (5’26”, Menuet I da capo with both repeats)

Menuet I: the pace is at the lower limit for a Menuet—however, there is definitely dance swaying, nice sonority, no conspicuous oddities (belly notes are rare here). Rachel Podger also applies jeu inégal to bar #4, as well as to select other quaver motifs. The jeu inégal remains subtle, though, never turns into full punctuations. Also, there are some nice, fitting extra ornaments.

Menuet II: Different from many other performances, Rachel Podger selects a distingly faster pace for the second Menuet—and that seems to fit the movement very well. Aleo here, there are extra ornaments, which particularly fit the folksy musette passages (they actually sound like hurdy-gurdy imitations—nice!). This way, the second Menuet feels playful, easy.

The Menuet I da capo follows with both repeats—an opportunity for the artist to show more / different ornaments.

VI. Bourrée (1’28”)

The pace feels fast, yet, the artist manages to add an extra ornament into the repeat of the first part. Unfortunately, the performance is riddled with superficialities in the slurred quavers. Irritating. The basic approach (tempo, articulation / phrasing) might be OK, if executed cleanly (no, I don’t imply perfection with this).

VII. Gigue (2’14”)

This was the first of the Gigue recordings that I listened to (the slowest of the performances)—and I confess that I almost instantly lost interest (in the interpretation, not the Gigue). As outlined above, I was expecting a joyful, affirmative, if not festive beginning. Instead, the beginning of Rachel Podger’s interpretation sounded gentle, mellow, tame—simply too well-behaved. It’s not that Rachel Podger was playing badly—she performs carefully in articulation and dynamics, also adding numerous ornaments to the repeats.

My main objection is that the interpretation may be lovely, etc.—but to me, it is far too harmless for a movement concluding the “Sei Solo“. For example: shouldn’t the four opening quavers be a kind of signal, almost a fanfare? Just to confirm: none of the other 25 artists opts for such a harmless Gigue.

Total Duration: 19’41”

Rating: 4 / 3 / 4 / [4 / 4] / 3 / 3 = 3.57

Comment: A HIP violinist with some occasional “bad habits” (belly notes, for example) who tries to be different—with partial success. Not my first recommendation for performances on period instruments.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Gidon Kremer, 2001 (CD cover)

Gidon Kremer, 2001

Instrument: 1730 violin “ex-David” by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (1698 – 1744), Cremona.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’19”)

21 years after his first recording, Gidon Kremer performs at exactly the same sporty pace. However, the performance feels lighter, has maybe gained some distance from the details. He now is less bearish, obsessed with activity on every note (except for short segments), allowing for retractions into lightness and pp, though allowing for dynamic outbursts, stark contrasts, also to highlight hidden melodies. Still not aiming for esthetic perfection and smoothness, of course, masterful nevertheless.

II. Loure (3’45”)

Calm flow, phrasing in entire bars (with “minor” accents on the secondary beat in every bar), gentle dance swaying. Subtle in the dynamics, although still covering a large volume span. A highly expressive interpretation, without exaggeration, but not shying away from buzzing empty (metal or metal-clad) strings. A little nervous in the (somewhat selective) vibrato. Beautiful, broad phrases.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’57”)

Excellent in general. Kremer doesn’t appear to take this strictly as a dance: there is agogic / rhythmic swaying, but there are some noticeable (albeit not drastic) tempo changes, making this more of a generic piece of art music. Often, Kremer starts a refrain or an episode in a very firm, affirmative way, followed by acceleration across the segment. The last refrain features the most pronounced agogic swaying—though not in a cyclic manner, as for a typical dance. Not surprisingly for this artist, the playing is very expressive, with very prominent (almost eruptive) accents. However, there are also subtle beginnings, such as the third episode. Enthralling, for sure!

IV. Menuet I (1’39”)

A highly idiosyncratic interpretation. At most, a stomping peasant dance in the initial, chordic motifs, with some arbitrariness in the “spontaneous” accents, the occasional, up-swinging arpeggio chord. There isn’t much of a persistent pace in the chordic part. Moreover, the “linear” (quaver) segment in the second part feels like full of tempo instabilities and arbitrary hesitations.

V. Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (2’27”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

The basic approach (articulation) is fine, but also here, the tempo is unstable—irritating, to some degree. One prime example: the sudden switch to a faster pace after the musette segments. Why? I can’t criticize the artist for his decisions (he does well, what he wants to do, the strong-willed personality that he must be). It’s just that his choices don’t make much sense to me.

VI. Bourrée (1’16”)

Here, Gidon Kremer is even a tad faster than in his 1980 recording—and my impression is very similar. The newer recording maybe a bit less wild & hectic, smoother in details, perhaps a bit more controlled in some passages. However, it still feels slightly too fast to enjoy down to the details.

VII. Gigue (1’50”)

Is this where Mikhail Pochekin “inherited” his approach to the opening motif from? With Gidon Kremer, that little hesitation into the slurred quavers in the opening motif is even more pronounced—and with the repeat and subsequent instances in the second part, it gets even conspicuous. That said: I find this interpretation devoid of exaggeration—just excellent, lively and detailed in articulation, dynamics, and “speaking” agogics. Maybe one of Kremer’s best movements in this entire recording.

Total Duration: 17’13”

Rating: 5 / 4 / 4 / 3 / 3 / 4 / 5 = 4.00

Comment: An excellent recording in general—though, I don’t like all bits to the same degree. Still, Kremer is a strong musical personality, often offering unique, compelling interpretations. Definitely worth a recommendation.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Christian Tetzlaff (CD cover)

Christian Tetzlaff, 2005

Instrument: 2002 violin by Stefan-Peter Greiner (*1966), Bonn.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’18”)

At virtually the same pace as Gidon Kremer 1980 and Kremer’s second recording, Tetzlaff’s interpretation is not free from superficialities and unnecessary rush. Very active, too, of course, technically excellent, though occasionally at the limit for the details in articulation, “swallowing” one or the other note. Some slight tempo inconsistencies—trying to be fast at all cost? There is obviously little or no time for Klangrede in most of the performance—no chance to shape details. The performance would have benefitted from more agogics, from less “tempo stress”.

II. Loure (4’40”)

A slow, but natural pace, distinct agogic (dance) swaying. The vibrato is ubiquitous, but at an acceptable strength (amplitude, frequency). My main objection is with the exaggerated dynamic phrasing (“belly dynamics” in most phrases). With more subtle phrasing, the movement would gain calmness, but retain the dance character.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’55”)

Is this just my impression, or is there indeed some slight (but frequent, recurring) superficiality in Christian Tetzlaff’s playing? Already the beginning appears to lack determination and firmness in rhythm / agogics and articulation. Later, there are several instances of “spontaneous” or unmotivated accelerandi tempo alterations / instabilities that make me lose interest. Too bad: technically, Tetzlaff’s playing is excellent…

IV. Menuet I (1’39”)

Interesting: in both Menuet movements, Christian Tetzlaff exactly replicates Gidon Kremer’s 2001 timing! The interpretation is completely different, though. Tetzlaff uses almost extreme agogic swaying. The tempo does feel like at the upper limit for a Menuet, though, and some of the rhythmic swaying is strong enough to cause fast motifs to sound slightly superficial, hasty. Rather fluid for a Menuet? Idiosyncrasy.

V. Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (2’27”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Also here, there are some tempo alteration beyond agogic swaying—they feel less arbitrary, though, and the term “superficial” does not apply here. The musette parts are intimate, warm, beautiful. The subsequent linear quaver segment is lucid, joyful—indeed a joy to listen to. In the repeat of the second part, bar #30, the minor ninth in the (extra) appoggiatura on the half note is rather extravagant, bold. One might say: OK, why not? Others may find it too audacious.

VI. Bourrée (1’14”)

The fastest of the performances in this movement. And indeed, it is a bit too fast, at the point where certain motifs start to sound superficial. And occasionally, the artist is resuming a faster pace, as if he had notices a slight slow-down and now needed to resume the faster pace, just to stay ahead of the others. A bit overdone. Couldn’t this be playful rather than mainly focused tempo?

VII. Gigue (1’42”)

One of the fastest three performances: Christian Tetzlaff was aiming high—and didn’t quite succeed in this movement. His interpretation feels restless, pushed, as if the artist was in a hurry to finish the recording. Moreover (or as a consequence of the push for tempo, there are many notes, even entire motifs which sound superficial, and there isn’t enough “time to breathe” between phrases. Sure, Tetzlaff’s technique is excellent—but still, his interpretation would be more compelling, if it was a little more relaxed…

Total Duration: 17’55”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 3 / 4 / 4 / 4 / 3 = 3.43

Comment: Christian Tetzlaff’s 2005 interpretation is good—but no match for the top, especially historically informed, performances. Although this is a kind of “blind guess”: if you are interested in this artist, I’d rather opt for his newer recording from 2017see the comparison summary for a reference.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Viktoria Mullova (CD cover)

Viktoria Mullova, 2008

Instrument: 1750 violin by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711 – 1786), Milan; gut strings; baroque bow by W. Barbiero. Pitch: a’ = 415 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’38”)

Not surprisingly, among the very best: maybe the “golden middle path” between Isabelle Faust‘s playfulness and Amandine Beyer‘s detailed expression at the level of motifs and small phrases? One characteristic is in the large-scale accelerandi / tempo variations, sometimes bordering on driven—yet, these remain subtle, and most listeners will not notice them. Needless to say: beautiful sound and sonority

II. Loure (3’40”)

Simply harmonious and beautiful! There is a little more vibrato than in Sebastian Bohren‘s interpretation, but it still feels natural and inconspicuous. I like Viktoria Mullova’s extra ornaments in the repeats: not overloading the music, but ingenious, fitting, and full of fantasy—an enrichment, for sure. There is this beautiful dance swaying, totally without exaggeration in dynamics and agogics, and this harmony in the peaceful, stepping pace: a movement in utmost beauty!

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’0’5″)

As magnificent as Isabelle Faust’s interpretation—albeit completely different! Viktoria Mullova uses more agogic swaying / variations, and—most evidently—beautiful, “speaking” phrasing and dynamics. Nothing is exaggerated, really. There are moments where the movement assumes a “folksy” trait—not just in the musette segments in the second episode (and, to a minor degree—also the fourth episode).

The artist adds one single and inconspicuous additional ornament in the second refrain instance. Only in the final / closing instance of the theme, she indulges in lovely, curly ornamentation—without disrupting the pace. Also, the rhythmic irregularities in bar #91 (end of the fourth episode) appears more integrated, more natural than with most other artists. I love it!

IV. Menuet I (1’46”)

Wonderful! Viktoria Mullova does not try to be artful—certainly not in the first passes. Her playing is natural, simple—the main “added feature” is in the staccato crotchets. But even those remain simple—nothing that tries to attract attention. And yes: it is a proper, swaying Menuet dance. In the repeats, Viktoria Mullova adds some playful, nice little ornaments—all of course without disrupting the phrase, the dance “flow”.

V. Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (2’44”, Menuet I da capo without repeats.)

See Menuet I: here, there are even fewer extra ornaments—limited to the repeat of the second part. And again simplicity and pure beauty throughout, in an intimate atmosphere. Marvelous, yet unpretentious!

VI. Bourrée (1’34”)

Excellent: fluid, each of the parts one single, harmonious, big arch—but not pushing / urging: rather, natural breathing in phrases, detailed, “speaking” articulation and dynamics. Beautiful—and no need for extra ornaments etc.

VII. Gigue (1’50”)

Once more: most beautiful and enchanting! A fluid tempo, yet expressive, detailed in the articulation, highly differentiated in dynamics and agogics, ranging from subtle to expressive—devoid of exaggerations. Never pushing, never losing momentum, playful—and yet an excellent conclusion, even with festive moments.

Total Duration: 18’16”

Rating: 5 / 5 / 5 / 5 / 5 / 5 / 5 = 5.00

Comment: As ever so often in this series, clearly one of my top favorites, and worth the strongest possible recommendation! Who could possibly not like this interpretation?

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Kristóf Baráti (CD cover)

Kristóf Baráti, 2009

Instrument: 1703 violin “Lady Harmsworth” by Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737), Cremona.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001. Kristóf Baráti consequently leaves out all second repeats.

I. Preludio (3’50”)

Perfection in articulation, tone, sonority. Yet, not really monotonous: differentiated in articulation and phrasing—even though there are only limited agogics. Within the détaché articulation, Kristóf Baráti carefully highlights keynotes (dynamically, and though subtle broadening). Too perfect? Certainly in view of historically informed performances.

II. Loure (2’48”, second repeat not performed)

The pace is right, but it’s far too strict / regular, almost devoid of rhythmic swaying. Also the phrasing / dynamics offer barely any dance feeling. Performed with technical perfection in intonation and articulation, but overall it is almost a “dead” performance, or at least without substantial life and heartblood. Even the vibrato is perfect—but unnecessary…

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’47”)

Perfect in technique and sound, maybe—but aseptic, relentlessly and uniformly moving along with the perseverance of a steam locomotive: devoid of agogics, let alone dance swaying. Uninteresting, if not boring.

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II (1’59”, second repeats not performed, no Menuet I da capo)

Instrumental / technical perfection in all aspects (articulation, sonority, intonation)—and unfortunately very neutral. There aren’t any agogics to speak of (no dance swaying), the chosen pace is maintained throughout the movements, and there is barely time to breathe between the phrases (except for the end of a part). And far, far from baroque Klangrede. Perfection isn’t everything.

VI. Bourrée (1’07”, second repeat not performed)

Rhythmically very regular and motoric (the only exceptions are the crotchet pairs opening each of the parts, and the ritardando at the end). Perfect in articulation and sonority, of course…

VII. Gigue (1’33”, second repeat not performed)

Not as tame as Rachel Podger, but really boring. It may be performed perfectly, but is devoid of interesting features: the chains of détaché semiquavers appear with the regularity of a sewing machine. To me, the absence of the second repeat confirms that the artist didn’t find this movement of particular interest. And of course, he didn’t care adding ornaments. If he was a pupil, as a teacher, I would say: “you have learned this piece to perfection—now is the time to do something with it!“.

Total Duration: 14’04”

Rating: 4 / 3 / 2 / [3 / 3] / 4 / 3 = 3.14

Comment: The “Sei Solo” with this artist were a spontaneous purchase after I heard his live performance of a 20th century violin concerto in Zurich, back in 2017. Clearly a mistake. One should never, ever extrapolate from a performance of 20th century compositions to recordings of baroque music. And one should never be blinded by instrumental perfection. My bad.

Isabelle Faust, Bach Sonatas & Partitas, vol.1 (CD cover)

Isabelle Faust, 2009

Instrument: 1704 violinLa belle au bois dormant” by Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737), Cremona. This is apparently the only Stradivari instrument that has not undergone modernization, i.e., it still features the shorter and flatter neck.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001, as well as on the Partita No.2 in D minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1004.

I. Preludio (3’40”)

Fluid, light, “easy”, playful, yet detailed and careful in articulation, dynamics and phrasing—masterful. Particularly excellent: how Isabelle Faust highlights hidden melodies in the semiquaver passagework. Very similar in timing, yet, quite different in the general approach from Amandine Beyer’s interpretation. Here, the focus is on playfulness and agility (without neglecting details!), not so much on Klangrede and expression at the level of motifs.

II. Loure (3’39”)

For once, Isabelle Faust and Viktoria Mullova share exactly the same pace. With the latter, the performance shares the rich set of extra ornaments in the repeats—equally rich in fantasy, a little more artful (e.g., occasionally also in the second voice), ideally fitting the music, not overloading it.

In the general approach (repeats aside), this interpretation appears close to Sebastian Bohren‘s. It goes even a little further in reducing the music to Bach’s text (ornamented repeats aside, of course)—utmost naturalness. Consequently, Isabelle Faust’s vibrato is absent almost completely, rare ever noticeable. Superficially, the first passes may sound more distanced, less engaged than, e.g., Sebastian Bohren’s or Viktoria Mullova’s interpretations. This may be deceptive, however. Isabelle Faust’s natural, simple playing is deliberate and conscious—also an expression of her emotional engagement, which primarily shows up in the diligence and care that she applies to the ornamented repeats. Masterful!

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’08”)

Beautiful, excellent! The light, highly differentiated articulation, the subtle dynamics, the phrasing, the consistent, fluid pace (also applied to the episodes), the ingenious extra ornaments (in shape, as well as in placement and variation), the persistent dance feeling, the joy & pleasure throughout the movement!

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (4’48”, Menuet I da capo with both repeats)

Menuet I: A masterwork! So light, and so highly differentiated in the articulation, subtle, detailed—and the dance swaying goes through the entire movement! In addition, of course, Isabelle Faust’s delicate, perfectly integrated extra ornaments in the repeats—full of fantasy, yet natural-sounding, as if they were by the composer. Apart from “normal” ornaments, Isabelle Faust also playfully varies the repeats in the articulation, or by adding the occasional, subtle jeu inégal. With this, doing the repeats (with different ornaments also in the da capo instance) is a must! Ingenious—and still staying within the character of a Menuet, i.e., not feeling too artsy!

Menuet II: I could repeat the comments from Menuet I almost 1:1. The two movements share the same pace and the same superb qualities in the interpretation.

VI. Bourrée (1’18”)

A tad faster even than Amandine Beyer. However, Isabelle Faust—being who she is—masters this with perfect control of tempo, articulation, dynamics (down to a subtle pp), sonority. At a first glance, the playing feels breathless: Isabelle Faust does not resort to fermatas at double bars, her breath feels infinite—however, the music, the phrases themselves are breathing. The phrasing, the “internal breathing” are as good as they can ever be—stunning, masterful, enthralling!

VII. Gigue (1’35”)

See my remarks on the Bourrée above, in all aspects. Here, Isabelle Faust even offers the fastest performance—right at the limit, where she can till avoid sounding pushed of superficial. Augustin Hadelich may be a tad more relaxed (he also is very slightly slower). On the other hand, Isabelle Faust even manages to add a few extra ornaments. These are totally integrated and inconspicuous, not for show or demonstration of virtuosity or agility—seemingly just to satisfy the artist’s feel for baroque interpretations.

Total Duration: 18’08”

Rating: 5 / 5 / 5 / [5 / 5] / 5 / 5 = 5.00

Comment: I’m repeating myself here, giving the strongest possible recommendation for Isabelle Faust’s recording, on a par only with Viktoria Mullova and Amandine Beyer

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Alina Ibragimova (CD cover)

Alina Ibragimova, 2009

Instrument: 1738 violin by Pietro Guarneri (1695 – 1762), Venice.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’14”)

Very fast—a tad faster than Tomás Cotik’s 2019 interpretation even. Yes, it often does feel fast, however, Alina Ibragimova’s playing not only is technically superb and clean, but (mostly) feels relaxed, articulated carefully throughout, not pushed to the limit. And the artist retains differentiation in dynamics, phrasing, even agogics (the latter not so much at the level of motifs, though). Masterful, up to the affirmative cadence in bars #134/135, followed by the playful last bars, ending almost ghastly, like a bird that is escaping into thin air….

II. Loure (4’11”)

Interesting: in the first movement, Alina Ibragimova offers the fastest performance, while here, her tempo is almost exactly on the average. Similar to Rachel Podger’s interpretation, there are numerous belly notes and swellings—however, they are not only fewer, but also more subtle, and (mostly) not appearing with the same irritating regularity. Also, Alina Ibragimova’s interpretation also features longer phrases (not just monotonous half-bar units). Overall, though, the swellings and belly notes still are a bit too prominent, demonstrative.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’00”)

One single, extra ornament—an inconspicuous trill on the second-to-last note in the last refrain. That’s not really criticism, even though for a historically informed performance (no vibrato at all) I tend to expect a little more. I do have reservations, though, about the swelling accents on half notes. Also, there are some inconsistencies in the tempo: it seems that the artist tends to lose a bit of pace, such that the next segment (refrain, episode) appears to begin at a faster pace. Finally: the dance character (agogic swaying) could be more pronounced, the rhythm / pace more consistent.

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (4’58”, Menuet I da capo with both repeats)

Menuet I: Harmonious, gentle, subtle. I see some similarities between Alina Ibragimova’s and Mikhail Pochekin’s approach—not just in the tempo, but also the occasional “swelling accents”. However, here, these are far less poignant and less predictable. The artist occasionally uses them on endnotes, or occasionally on phrase highlights. But always discreetly. Apart from that, her playing is more subtle, the articulation more differentiated. And—last, but not least—the absence of vibrato very much fits the character of a simple (folk) dance.

Menuet II: light, simple, unpretentious, and long phrases (less fragmentation that in Mikhail Pochekin’s interpretation). And: the transitions between the two Menuets are inconspicuous, seamless—the pace is identical.

VI. Bourrée (1’17”)

Very close to Isabelle Faust’s performance, maybe a tad less controlled in the sonority / dynamics, less focused on sound esthetics (especially in fast details). However, the interpretation is bursting from life and temperament, meticulous in the articulation, very (but not too) fast, enthralling. Just this belly swelling on the final note…

VII. Gigue (1’46”)

An excellent performance—fast and fluid, though perhaps not quite offering the same amount of detail in articulation, of richness in “language” (Klangrede, agogics) as the very top performers. And why, why the prominent belly dynamics on the very last note??

Total Duration: 18’25”

Rating: 5 / 3 / 3 / [4 / 4] / 5 / 4 = 4.00

Comment: One should consider that the artist recorded this 2009 (at age 24), 13 years ago. The recording is excellent, with some true highlights, but not quite consistently convincing (yet) across all the movements.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Sergey Khachatryan (CD cover)

Sergey Khachatryan, 2009

Instrument: 1702 violinLord Newlands” by Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737), Cremona.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’43”)

Thankfully, there is little chance to apply vibrato in this movement, except for the last few bars. Sergey Khachatryan’s interpretation is technically perfect (tone, articulation), though a little too smooth / polished. The dynamics are differentiated at the level of phrasing. Agogics? Well, some, but these are often drowned by an excess in tempo variation (rubato, really) at the level of bigger phrases. Predominantly, of course, a modern interpretation.

II. Loure (4’55”)

My comments on Joseph Szigeti’s 1956 performance were bad—this one may be worse. Yes, the vibrato is not as heavy and broad as Szigeti’s—but it’s nervous and just as strong in amplitude: equally irritating. And: why use a fast, nervous vibrato in a slow movement?? Moreover, Khachatryan shapes (almost) every single tone as a “belly note”, which soon sounds obnoxious. It’s carefully and cleanly articulated—but it’s impossible to follow longer phrases / development: too much focus on individual tones, not enough on melodies. And needless to say: dance feeling is nowhere to be found.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’06”)

I quite like the approach in terms of tempo and articulation. It’s just a pity that Sergey Khachatryan manages to drown even this light dance movement in persistent, nervous vibrato, occasionally even down to quavers. Some of the dynamics are close to mannerism, especially when the artist adds belly notes to p / pp episodes. A romantic interpretation, even in the absence of common romanticisms (I regard belly notes a generic, bad feature).

IV. Menuet I (2’06”)

Not just permanent, nervous vibrato—but the main Menuet I theme is performed with ultra-mellow “cloudy” articulation, forming a cushion (belly note) from every note / bow stroke. Why? If there was the slightest amount of dance feeling to the performance, the articulation would certainly kill it. The artist is contrasting this by playing the linear quaver line in bars #18 – #26, and #29 – #32 with light, gentle staccato-like articulation (here, he even shows very little vibrato!). However, creating averages from extremes does not work in music!

V. Menuet II (1’58”, no Menuet I da capo)

A nice beginning, very gentle, retained—and without vibrato. The latter though, forbids itself, as parts of the drone tone are on an empty string. That said, I also noted some marginally controlled dynamics (e.g., belly notes on the melody), which of course also transfers to the drone tone. In the second half, though, the nervous vibrato is back, as are the belly dynamics, primarily on slurred notes. Both Menuets are at about the same, slow pace, neither of them feels like a dance movement.

VI. Bourrée (1’33”)

Good tempo and phrasing, the articulation rather broad, lyrical—but why, why this trembling vibrato throughout the movement??

VII. Gigue (1’56”)

On each and every quaver (and crotchets, of course), Sergey Khachatryan’s vibrato is stronger and more intrusive than on any of the traditional performances in this comparison. Too bad, as there is differentiation in articulation and dynamics…

Total Duration: 19’17”

Rating: 4 / 1 / 2 / 1 / 2 / 3 / 3 = 2.29

Comment: I should have checked more carefully before acquiring this recording—definitely not my style. There are periods in which vibrato is appropriate, even necessary (e.g., late- or post-romantic music)—but even there, Khachatryan’s is far too nervous—to my taste, at least.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Amandine Beyer (CD cover)

Amandine Beyer, 2011

Instrument: 1996 baroque violin by Pierre Jaquier; 2000 baroque bow by Eduardo Gorr. Pitch: a’ = 415 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’43”)

Amandine Beyer is not disappointing my very high expectations. Tempo-wise in the mid-field among the 26 recordings, the tempo is fluid, but never pushed or “relentless”. Rather, Amandine Beyer differentiates in articulation, agogics, phrasing and dynamics, her playing feels natural and rich in Klangrede at all time, in every phrase. The tone, the sonority is beautiful, though never aiming for perfection. Truly excellent! To me, this interpretation proves that naturalness in expression and performance is key to success with this movement.

II. Loure (4’04”)

At exactly the “golden average” in tempo, Amandine Beyer offers a performance that features beautiful, natural dance swaying—two beats per bar, though never short-breathed. Rather the artist combines the dance rhythm ideally with longer melodic phrases. Needless to say that even without vibrato, the intonation is excellent, as is the sonority, which is not polished to perfection, but also never feels raw.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’48”)

Amandine Beyer is slightly faster than Christian Tetzlaff—but, lo and behold, her interpretation never feels fast, is rather relaxed and playful, yet determined, and at the same time with natural dance swaying. The artist adds several, well-fitting / -adapted ornaments, but only to the theme: one in the repeat two in the second instance, four in the fourth instance, and two more in the final one. An excellent approach: the episodes don’t need extras, the theme, however does. Other artists may be more peculiar in their ornaments—Amandine Beyer shows that that’s not necessary. There is more to it, though: here, the artist enriches the recurring instances of the theme with variations in the articulation—some subtle, some capricious: nice!

It is fascinating to listen to the rich, colorful sonority of this recording: full of life, ever so far from dead perfection! The performance is never aseptic—one can hear “production noise” (bow-string interaction, noise from empty gut strings, etc.): enough to add life and color, but never in excess (which would irritate).

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (3’55”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Menuet I: Among the (my) top artists in this comparison, Amandine Beyer is the one that is the most daring in exposing the “untamed” sonority of the gut strings: these colors—so bright, luminous, so clear!!! Needless to say that also the artist’s articulation, phrasing, etc. leave very little, if anything to wish for (unless you insist on the smooth perfection of a modern interpretation!): it really is pure joy to listen to! And this pronounced, but still natural dance swaying throughout the movement. There are of course additional ornaments: Amandine Beyer is not as strict as others, adding some also to the first passes.

Menuet II: See Menuet I. Amandine Beyer takes the second Menuet a tad more fluid, which helps setting apart / highlighting the hurdy-gurdy passages. And in moving into the repeat of the first part, the artist adds a lovely, curly little fioritura, which of course fits the hurdy-gurdy passage that follows. Finally: in the Menuet II the dance swaying is even more pronounced than in the first Menuet.

VI. Bourrée (1’20”)

A tad faster than Sebastian Bohren—and consequently taking bigger risks. One might find one or the other “half.-swallowed” note—but with an interpretation so enthralling and fascinating (excellent tempo control, agility, detail in articulation and dynamics), this becomes irrelevant. The performance is all the more astounding, as it is done with a baroque bow and gut strings!

VII. Gigue (1’57”)

At almost exactly the same pace as Thomas Pietsch, Amandine Beyer’s recording is so much more differentiated! Yes, there is also occasional “historic noisiness”, but the dynamic span is larger, there are subtle moments, too. And this recording feels more relaxed. Like in Pietsch’s recording, there is reverberation—but here it doesn’t sound intrusive, it rather supports the performance.

Total Duration: 17’48”

Rating: 5 / 5 / 5 / [5 / 5] / 5 / 4 = 4.86

Comment: Clearly one of my top favorites—a strong recommendation!

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Thomas Pietsch (CD cover)

Thomas Pietsch, 2011

Instrument: 1672 violin by Hannß Khögl (1614 – 1680), Vienna; bow by Pierre Patigny (after an anonymous bow, early 18th century). Pitch: a’ = 415 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (4’08”)

Thomas Pietsch focuses on local Klangrede, almost to the extreme, to the level of individual notes, occasionally. This leads to large variations in “tone sonority”, whereby tones with firm, clear articulation often stand next to (“minor”) notes that appear articulated superficially, also in the intonation. This makes them sound “rough”, occasionally ill-defined, even though the basic sonority of the instrument is beautiful. And for once, the church acoustics seem to suit the performance.

II. Loure (4’22”)

Not unlike Giuliano Carmignola, Thomas Pietsch adds (few) ornaments already in the first pass, some more in the repeats. These extra ornaments are usually simple (inverted mordents, short trills, etc.). There is distinct dance swaying. The dynamic phrasing / breathing is exaggerated, the phrases are typically half a bar only, which makes the performance feel a bit short-breathed. Thomas Pietsch performs without any vibrato. That’s commendable, of course. Unfortunately, in combination with the very close microphone placement, which amplifies the “by-noises” of the baroque bow on gut strings, this makes the recording sound somewhat raw.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’13”)

Somewhat raw not just in the sonority, but also in the articulation, often even intonation. The performance overall sounds a bit didactic, if not occasionally slightly stiff. Some extra agogics / rhythmic flexibility would avoid that. The tempo as such is not stiff (e.g., there is a slight ritardando towards the end of the theme). Thomas Pietsch does add a few extra ornaments. One of these—the inverted mordent on the third quaver in bar 5—uniformly occurs in every instance of the theme.

IV. Menuet I (1’52”)

At same timing as Giuliano Carmignola, Thomas Pietsch’s interpretation also has aspects of stomping, a certain clumsiness. But at least, one can sense the 3/4 beat—without much dance swaying, though. And like Carmignola, Pietsch resorts to jeu inégal—even much more than the former. Already the first quaver pair is punctuated. In bar #4, however, the punctuations appear softened, less strict—”washed out”, in some way. That also applies to most (extra) punctuations, throughout the movement. The intonation is good, but definitely not perfect.

V. Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (3’55”, Menuet I da capo with both repeats)

Also somewhat heavy, which Thomas Pietsch compensates with frequent folksy extra ornaments—actually a nice trait. I again don’t sense much agogic swaying (only through dynamics, maybe). In the musette, Thomas Pietsch also applies jeu inégal (partial punctuations) to several of the quaver motifs.

With all these very noticeable extras, doing both repeats also in the Da capo instance of the first Menuet seems a bit overdone.

VI. Bourrée (1’27”)

This interpretation makes me think that period instruments (bows, mainly) require a slower tempo. That’s hardly true—at least not to the degree that this performance makes me believe. Here, numerous slurred quaver motifs sound rather superficial / badly defined, with “smeared out” tone transitions, occasionally last notes almost “swallowed”, marginal intonation.

VII. Gigue (1’52”)

Basically a nice interpretation, detailed in articulation and dynamics. Overall, however, the impression of noisy articulation tends to prevail. One may attribute this to the proximity in the microphone placement. However, that’s no excuse or justification: violin / bow “by-noises” tend to project far less than the “actual” tones. In other words: in a real-life / concert situation, the average listener would (most likely) experience far less of a “noisy” performance.

Total Duration: 20’30”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 3 / 3 / 3 / 2 / 3 = 2.86

Comment: A sincere, historically informed performance with the best intent. Unfortunately, it is hampered through a very close microphone placement, and (to a lesser degree) through excess reverberation in the recording venue (church acoustics).

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Christine Busch (CD cover)

Christine Busch, 2012

Instrument: 18th century baroque violin, Tyrol. Pitch: a’ = 415 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (4’13”)

Almost identical to Jaap Schröder in the tempo—but (along with the absence of vibrato) that’s about the only commonality. The contrast in the first bars could barely be bigger. Where Schröder’s articulation appears vaguely defined (quavers in bars #1 and #2), Christine Busch uses crisp, clear staccato articulation, her tones are well-defined, the sonority beautiful, Klangrede is present from the first notes. Unfortunately, the clear articulation does not persist through the rest of the movement. Especially in segments which alternate between two strings (typically a’ and e”, starting in bar #13), Christine Busch plays with a very “light bow”, the tone turns very “airy”, occasionally marginally defined, a tad buzzing. On the positive side: Christine Busch’s intonation is unfailing, clean (cleaner than Jaap Schröder’s).

II. Loure (3’46”)

The timing is identical to Gidon Kremer’s from 2001, and there are indeed similarities, e.g., in the phrasing, the way the accents are presented. The latter are somewhat too prominent, too demonstrative. Of course, the vibrato is inconspicuous, and Christine Busch adds extra (fitting, well-chosen) ornaments to the repeats. Close to my ideal, but not quite there…

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’04”)

Excellent, folksy, rich and full of life in the breadth of expressions / characteristics (articulation, agogics, dynamics) between the episodes & phrases: folksy, not aiming for utmost subtlety (although there are few intimate moments). Extraordinary in the amount of Klangrede, “speaking” dynamics. Christine Busch applies a small, but exquisite set of extra ornaments—all well-placed, well-fitting, never repetitive, nor predictable.

IV.Menuet I (1’39”)

In the sequence from slow to fast, with this interpretation (#12), we enter the realm of faster-than-average interpretations. A transition that is very noticeable—from the preceding recording by Sebastian Bohren: Christine Busch’s performance feels distinctly faster. The light and somewhat strict articulation may contribute to this impression. The crotchet staccatos feel rather “square”, and there isn’t much in terms of agogic swaying. Is the artist trying to avoid the impression of a “banal menuet“?

V. Menuet II (1’49”, no Menuet I da capo)

Here, Christine Busch takes back the tempo (now slightly below the average)—and I instantly feel “much more at home”! The musette motif is beautiful, natural, and when she adds curly ornaments to the melody in the repeat, this reinforces the hurdy-gurdy atmosphere. The staccato on the détaché quavers never feel strict (as the staccato in the first Menuet), but are subtle and playful, even a little capricious. And this now definitely feels like a dance, with distinct agogic swaying. Marvelous!

VI. Bourrée (1’36”)

Beautiful: articulation, phrasing, fluid, but relaxed in the pace, some nice, extra ornaments in the repeats…

VII. Gigue (1’54”)

See under Bourrée above: joyful, festive—marvelous!

Total Duration: 18’02”

Rating: 4 / 4 / 5 / 4 / 5 / 5 / 5 = 4.57

Comment: Very consistently excellent, both musically, as well as technically. Beautiful, rich sonority. Worth a solid, strong recommendation, even if in some instances I have a slight preference for one or the other of her contenders in this comparison.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas BWV 1004 - 1006 — Sebastian Bohren (CD cover)

Sebastian Bohren, 2017

Instrument: 1710 violinKing George” by Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737), Cremona.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Partita No.2 in D minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1004.

I. Preludio (3’50”)

Definitely among the best interpretations on modern(ized) instruments. Detailed in articulation, living in agogics, phrasing, and dynamics—especially between the “motoric” segments. And all this in natural expression, not with Kristóf Baráti’s excessively polished perfection.

II. Loure (3’44”)

After several performances with exaggerated, overly demonstrative accents / dynamics, this feels so natural and more discreet in the dance swaying. I don’t miss the extra frills that others add: this is a simple dance movement. There is no need to be extravagant or highly artful: even the vibrato is very often absent or at least inconspicuous and natural / harmonious. And the sonority is beautiful, also without gut strings. Among all the interpretations here, this may be the most natural one.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’04”)

Excellent for a “modern” interpretation: natural, truthful to the notation, careful and clean in the articulation—exceptionally clean in the execution in general. Maybe at times slightly robust (OK, that may account for the folksy character of the dance?), and not approaching the breadth of expression (especially the subtleties) of the top interpretations on period instruments. Sebastian Bohren stays away from adding extra ornaments (maybe he felt that it’s risky to fix those in a recording?).

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (4’21”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Menuet I: Natural, unpretentious, with very few, inconspicuous extra ornaments: very nice! My main quibble is that there could be more agogic swaying: the rhythm (not the interpretation!) feels a tad “square”, monotonous.

Menuet II: one of the most “integrated” approaches to the second Menuet. It seamlessly molds into the Menuet I, forming a natural “inner” part. The second part of Menuet II opens up to jubilant moments—and in the last bars returns to the initial “Menuet mood”, allowing for a seamless transition to the Menuet I da capo. One little quibble also here: I don’t see why after every musette segment, the subsequent bars are ever so slightly (but still noticeably) faster.

In this interpretation, I can’t possibly imagine cutting off after Menuet II!

VI. Bourrée (1’23”)

Excellent performance: tempo control, dynamics, articulation, phrasing. The tempo is probably at the limit—but Sebastian Bohren still manages to articulate all motifs clearly and cleanly. At a slightly slower pace, one might perhaps add a tad more Klangrede / differentiation in the articulation—but the interpretation fits into the top range, just as it is.

VII. Gigue (1’49”)

A very detailed and careful (no, not cautious!) interpretation, technically very clean, devoid of exaggerations in agogics. Excellent, beautiful sonority in every passage, every note.

Total Duration: 18’11”

Rating: 5 / 5 / 4 / [4 / 4] / 5 / 4 = 4.43

Comment: Recommended—one of the best interpretations on a modern instrument (a modern bow in particular)!

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Giuliano Carmignola (CD cover)

Giuliano Carmignola, 2018

Instrument: 1733 violin by Pietro Guarneri (1695 – 1762), Venice; 2007 bow by Emilio Slaviero, after Nicolas Leonard Tourte, 18th century. Pitch: a’ = 415 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’59”)

Ostentative, poignant staccato quavers in the first two bars, excellent agogics, dynamics and phrasing (Klangrede) in most of the Preludio. From bar #13 onwards (melody alternating with ostinato double quavers on e”), however, there are several superficialities in the bowing. The same happens in the equivalent segment in bars #63ff (now downshifted by a fifth), even though the tempo is not extreme. The pace actually is below average.

II. Loure (4’35”)

Carmignola adds extra ornaments to the first pass already, many more to the repeats. The first may be questionable (shouldn’t we hear Bach’s original at least in the first pass?), the latter somewhat overdone. While there is prominent dance swaying, the movement sounds somewhat short-breathed (through phrasing and short/light articulation) in this interpretation (unusual for a slow movement, isn’t it?). Finally, I don’t see a reason for the rhythmic alteration in the first half of bar #10.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’19”)

I like Carmignola’s approach to the Gavotte theme: light, almost capricious, dancing. The repeat then definitely gets capricious, with the few somewhat bizarre extra ornaments: acciaccaturas, mostly, not just simple, but more complex ones, such as short, descending triplets. In the episodes, the artist tends to separate phrases, probably with the intent to offer clarity in structure and phrasing. In this, he occasionally abandons the dance continuity. The second ritornel is similar to the first one, without extra ornaments. However, the third instance opens with a descending spiccato figure leading into the first note.

Articulation, phrasing and dynamics are very careful, diligent and detailed in general. The beginning of the last episode can certainly again be called capricious again, peculiar: I like it, though. The final ritornel, then, combines a descending spiccato (a “micro-cadenza“, so to say) leading into the first note with the acciaccaturas from the first repeat. In addition, the first half note in bar #98 is converted to a fermata with a 4-string arpeggiando.

I do like the interpretation, overall, even though some may find it too peculiar (especially some of the ornaments). Not “proper Bach”? Maybe. It certainly is different from all other interpretations—was that the artist’s main purpose?

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II (3’48”, no Menuet I da capo)

Menuet I: Giuliano Carmignola’s playing is strongly rhythmic—and fairly strict / rigid, and mostly in short staccato. I don’t get any sensation of dance or Menuet. Why he plays the quavers in bar #4 inégal (i.e., three punctuated pairs) escapes me—and: if so, why only and exactly there? The punctuations of course don’t add agogic swaying per se. Also, the artist’s over-emphasized (stomping) accents on the first beat in every bar are not helpful. To me, a Menuet can’t be artificial, artistic, or sophisticated—is a simple, cosy / comfy dance. Carmignola’s interpretation isn’t any of this.

Menuet II: One could easily state that this interpretation is wonderful, sophisticated and artful music. However, it definitely isn’t a Menuet, nor even a dance movement in general. Carmignola forms strong, exaggerated dynamic two-bar arches, which also defeat the Menuet character. Yes, it is occasionally also subtle (e.g., the last bars), but…

Da capo: Carmignola produces two highly sophisticated, stand-alone artworks that don’t really need each other as complement. From this perspective, there is indeed no need for a Da capo here.

VI. Bourrée (1’35”)

Why so rough in the opening crotchets, also in subsequent instances? Somewhat rough are also many of the bottom peak notes, or tones starting a motif. Moreover, there are few (very minor) superficialities (nearly swallowed notes)—but that’s not irritating at all. The gap to the first pass of the second part is unnaturally long, disrupting the transition. The one extra ornament (two triplets in the second pass of bar #34), on the other hand, fits very well.

VII. Gigue (2’06”)

Close to exaggerated in the percussive opening quavers. A performance rich in expression, agogics and dynamics, details in articulation, ornaments in the repeats. Carmignola’s style in ornaments is very personal, though—some may view it as peculiar, maybe generic (early) baroque style more than what one may expect for Bach.

Total Duration: 19’22”

Rating: 4 / 4 / 4 / [3 / 3] / 4 / 4 = 3.71

Comment: An interpretation from a renowned specialist for historically informed performances in baroque (not necessarily Bach, though) music. Definitely HIP, although with occasional peculiarities. Not my first choice, in any case.

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Mikhail Pochekin (CD cover)

Mikhail Pochekin, 2018

Instrument: 1720 (modernized) violin by Francesco Gobetti (1675 – 1723), Venice, with metal strings; Tourte type modern bow by Eugène Sartory (1871 – 1946).

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’43”)

In terms of timing, Mikhail Pochekin is #12 (among 26) in the sequence from slow to fast. Even though the differences in timing are small, almost negligible, this is the first interpretation that feels “distinctly faster than the preceding recordings”. Technically flawless, though not excessively polished to smooth (featureless) perfection as Kristóf Baráti’s recording. An excellent, modern performance, careful and detailed—though without the attempt to delve into the full richness of Klangrede, as some historically informed performances. Among the modern interpretations, this definitely is excellent, technically among the best, though I personally prefer the naturalness and extra amount of agogics and expression in Sebastian Bohren’s performance.

II. Loure (3’52”)

Mikhail Pochekin’s belly dynamics (accents) feel somewhat exaggerated—also because they appear in most phrases. At least, the artist tends to perform in entire (not half) bars. This way, the interpretation does not feel quite as short-breathed as others. Still, in combination with the ubiquitous (and somewhat nervous) vibrato, the movement lacks calm, retains a certain unrest.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’05”)

A good tempo, good articulation and diligent, differentiated in agogics and dynamics. I do have some reservations about some of the latter, though. There is a tendency towards “belly accents”. It’s mostly subtle, but in the refrain, virtually every half note at the end of a phrase is a very prominent “belly note”—predictable, and, frankly, a bit obnoxious. A pity! It’s sometimes not just on individual notes, but also in exaggerated phrase highlights / climaxes. In combination with the vibrato, this feels a bit affected, mannered.

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (4’11”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Menuet I: I like Michael Pochekin’s tempo, the rhythmic / agogic swaying—a harmonious approach! My main reservation is with two aspects: for one, the strong, poignant (exaggerated) “belly accent” on endnotes, not just at the end of the two parts, but at the end of basically every phrase. And, linked to that: the tendency to “sit down” on these swelling endnotes, which disrupts that “dance flow”. One or two such swellings may be OK—however, here, they occur too frequently, and too predictably.

Menuet II: The poignant swellings are present here as well, as are (to a somewhat lesser degree) the disruptions in the flow. Apart from these exaggerations, the artist’s playing (sonority, articulation) is actually very nice.

VI. Bourrée (1’25”)

Technically superb, detailed in articulation and dynamics. The one reservation I have is with tempo irregularities. There are motifs which are faster amidst the flow. Bar #9 is the biggest, most striking example, and it occurs in both passes. I suspect that this is the result of erroneous cut&paste, i.e., combination of takes with different tempo? There are other, similar instances, but there, it only affects a few quavers (a partial motif) and is far less conspicuous. I’m ignoring this in my rating, as I think it is not the artist’s fault.

VII. Gigue (1’46”)

I like this decisive “attack”in the first bar, with the little hesitation into the slurred quavers. I equally like Mikhail Pochekin’s pronounced swaying across a phrase, the lightness in his articulation, and the differentiated dynamics. And, as always, technically superb, clean…

Total Duration: 18’01”

Rating: 4 / 3 / 3 / [3 / 3] / 4 / 4 = 3.43

Comment: A promising talent among the violinists of his generation, someone to watch out for!

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Atilla Aldemir (CD, cover)

Atilla Aldemir, 2019 (Viola, A major)

Instrument: 1560 viola by Pellegrino Micheli da Montechiaro (a.k.a. Peregrino Zanetto, ca. 1520 – ca. 1606), Brescia. Pitch: a’ = 433 Hz

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’41”)

The advantage of the viola for this Preludio is that it shifts (most parts of) the music into the pitch range of the human voice, hence avoiding the (possible) impression of “fiddling”, especially in extended semiquaver passages on or around the e” string on the violin. Atilla Aldemir’s pace is approximately the same as Amandine Beyer’s or Isabelle Faust’s—yet, one can feel that the viola is a tad less agile than the violin.

Aldemir is technically excellent—yet, in extended détaché semiquaver passages, the heavier character of the instrument does not work to its advantage. One reason for this—I think—is, that the downshift by a fifth also causes the “by-noises” from the interaction between bow and string to be more audible, more prominent. Also, compared to the violin, the viola requires more “finger stretching” on the left hand—consequently, perfect intonation is substantially harder to achieve. Here, one can sense a very slight degradation in intonation purity.

II. Loure (4’13”)

Beautiful! Aldemir uses the qualities of his instrument to make the (top) melody sing with gentle dance swaying / phrasing. In the secondary (lower) voice, some notes are mere allusions, just very short (not hard, though) staccato tones, which still have plenty of sonority on this instrument. The instrument fits the character of this movement very well, with its ability to sing. Calm, never short-breathed, despite the (correct) half-bar phrasing. And: here, the intonation is flawless!

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’58”)

Also here, the viola appears almost ideal for this movement. I like the dance character, the articulation, the sonority, and even the intonation (often a tricky issue in transcriptions of music for the violin) is very good almost throughout. The trickiest part is the last episode with its 3- and 4-stop chords, where the artist slows down a little bit, the result feels a tad clumsy at times—an indication for the challenge. Aldemir uses extra ornaments sparingly: one in the repeat of the initial theme, one in the second episode, only in the first bars of the final refrain, there are several—and they all fit well.

IV./V. Menuet I — Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (4’08”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Menuet I: Albeit at the same pace as Christine Busch‘s interpretation, the viola makes the movement sound heavier, hereby losing some of the Menuet / dance characteristics. Lacking some extra rhythmic swaying?

Menuet II: I like the first part with the musette segments: warm, intimate, almost pensive, “listening”. Too bad the second part of Menuet II falls back into the mode of the first Menuet. Some very slight intonation issues are an indication for the extra challenge of playing this on the viola.

VI. Bourrée (1’29”)

Good tempo, phrasing, articulation. My only quibble: why does the artist pretend his instrument is a violin? Respecting the heavier character of the instrument by selecting a slightly more relaxed pace would have allowed better definition and sound on some of the low & fast notes—and it would allow the listener to enjoy the beautiful sonority of the instrument even more!

VII. Gigue (1’59”)

A performance near the “slow end” (#3 out of 25). However, in this case, because it is on the viola, the tempo is just right! In the musical substance, it may be almost harmless. However, it not only fits the more robust character of the viola, but Atilla Aldemir’s playing is so differentiated dynamically, in articulation and phrasing—makes for a fitting, playful and beautiful conclusion of the series.

Total Duration: 18’29”

Rating: 4 / 4 / 3 / [3 / 3] / 4 / 4 = 3.57

Comment: Not all of Bach’s movements may be equally well-suited for the viola—but on the other hand, there are many movements where the viola can really play out its specific strengths. True, this recording can’t be the only one of Bach’s “Sei Solo“. However, it is definitely an enriching complement to historically informed performances on the violin. Worth a recommendation!

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Tomás Cotik (CD cover)

Tomás Cotik, 2019

Instrument: 2000 violin by Marc de Sterke (*1948), Emmendingen bei Freiburg / Germany; baroque bow.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’17”)

Hmmm … tempo at the expense of detail. Yes, it is fast and technically clean, but also feels careless, often monotonous and overly motoric. Examples: in bars #17 – #28, the second semiquaver in every 4-note motif is to be played on the empty e” string. Bach obviously intended to use the color change between the empty e” string and the same note on the a’ string. Tomás Cotik follows the notation. However, here, the empty e” string stands out strongly, overshadowing the three complementary notes. With this, the dominating feature in this passage are the three e“ on the empty string in every bar, making this entire passage sound monotonous and metallic (clearly, the artist is using a metal e” string). Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to the equivalent passage in bars #67 – #78, this time with the empty a’ string.

Except for rare instances of momentary agogic dilatations, the performance is motoric, seemingly with the one, primary goal: to maintain the fast pace. No time to enjoy details in motifs and phrasing. And the last five bars are so strict and rigid as to sound like a military command.

II. Loure (3’23”)

Albeit on the fast side for a Loure, there is still the appropriate dance feeling / swaying. The tempo may be a little too fast, still: there are minute tempo variations / instabilities, a certain sensation of impatience / slight urging that leave with some doubts. This tempo might basically still be manageable—however, retaining the character, the calm of a Loure would be a substantial challenge.

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (2’48”)

The basic approach is already on the fast side, not allowing for real dance swaying. On top of that there is a permanent sensation of slight acceleration—just enough to make me nervous as a listener. In the last episode, this is most conspicuous, but it is present throughout the movement. Apart from that, the playing is clean—but the acceleration kills the listening pleasure.

IV. Menuet I (1’33”)

The very beginning is substantially slower than the overall timing (in comparison with the other interpretations, that is) would suggest. A riddle? No—this is resolved very soon: after a few notes, the artist begins to accelerate. Not just a constant, large-scale acceleration, but—most irritatingly— the violinist very frequently tends to accelerate within bar, motifs, and arches. To the effect that these accelerated moments often sound superficial. In addition, this not only destroys the rhythmic continuity, it also defeats any dance swaying—if there was any. That’s a pity, as I can’t complain about the articulation in general, the intonation, the basic tempo.

V. Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (2’50”, Menuet I da capo with both repeats)

The musette / hurdy-gurdy moments are just fine—however, as soon as there is a single line of quavers, Tomás Cotik switches to a faster tempo. Also here, the basic articulation is just fine, but why the tempo changes? This isn’t a menuet. Rather, I’d describe it as something like “the hurdy-gurdy man talking to the tweeting birds”. The latter is what the linear quaver segments remind me of. I can see this as an interesting, even nice idea. However, I can’t imagine that this can possibly have been what Bach had in mind.

VI. Bourrée (1’27”)

Engaged, detailed in dynamics and articulation, technically clean—one of Tomás Cotik’s best movements. Apart from the occasional buzzing e” string (likely cause by the use of a baroque bow on a metal e” string), my only really minor quibble is that there is a very slight loss in momentum / tempo across the movement (was the start a tad fast?).

VII. Gigue (1’41”)

The first part is very fast, and not free of occasional (minor) superficialities in fast notes. Towards the end of the first part, and in the repeat, the artist noticeably loses tempo. Why was this not re-recorded with a more consistent pace? Also, there is a certain uniformity in the articulation, and rather than pushing for tempo (initially), more “investment in agogics” would have paid off.

Total Duration: 16’58”

Rating: 2 / 3 / 2 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 3 = 2.71

Comment: Maybe the artist now regrets having sent me his recording for reviewing? I’m sorry for not having a better rating to offer. However, I think every artist deserves my sincere opinion, for whatever it’s worth—and I really don’t like giving sub-average ratings!

J.S. Bach, Sonatas & Partitas — Augustin Hadelich (CD cover)

Augustin Hadelich, 2020

Instrument: 1744 violin “Leduc, ex-Szeryng” by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù (1698 – 1744), Cremona; baroque bow by Rüdiger Pfau.

For general comments concerning recording quality and settings, acoustics, as well as the artist’s approach to the “Sei Solo” see the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Preludio (3’20”)

With his technical mastership, Augustin Hadelich offers a “sporty” interpretation in a very fluid tempo. However, he avoids any sense of “pushed”, “rushed”, let alone ever superficial. Yes, it’s a modern interpretation, there could be more agogics, focus on Klangrede in motifs. On the other hand, Hadelich’s articulation is careful and detailed down to the tiniest of details, and he is equally careful in dynamics, which he uses for forming phrases both short and long: Hadelich’s response to the need for Klangrede? Masterful, no doubt—albeit hardly “period style”.

II. Loure (4’38”)

Virtually the same pace as Christian Tetzlaff—however, more discreet (but equally effective) in the phrasing. Also the vibrato is more subtle (I can easily live with that!). Calm, serene, slow dance swaying through agogics and phrasing / articulation. The artists adds some simple, but nice and fitting extra ornaments to the repeat segments, which only increases the listening pleasure: very nice, indeed!

III. Gavotte en Rondeau (3’05”, extra repeat of the final refrain instance)

A modern interpretation, no doubt—though one with diligent articulation. Some of the dynamic accents appear a bit exaggerated, and I don’t think repeating the last instance of the refrain adds much value. Bach didn’t include this last repeat. But I concede that it is done very nicely here: first, an affirmative “standard pass”, then an echo of sorts—reflective, retracting into intimacy.

Agogics and dynamics are fine—but I don’t see why the second and the last episode appear at a slightly faster pace, adding unnecessary urge. This may be perceived as tempo inconsistency, if not instability.

IV. Menuet I (1’35”)

Almost identical in timing to Amandine Beyer‘s interpretation, but now with “modern” sonority (baroque bow, but no gut strings). With this, the interpretation is less colorful, but nevertheless detailed and careful. The one thing I’m missing is some extra agogic swaying, some more dance character. Still, beautifully played, of course.

V. Menuet II — Menuet I da capo (2’15”, Menuet I da capo without repeats)

Also here, the second Menuet with the hurdy-gurdy segments is slightly more fluid, which helps setting it apart from Menuet I. It’s really nice, and here, the dance character is definitely more pronounced. My only, very minor quibble: the transition to the faster pace isn’t quite as inconspicuous and seamless as with Amandine Beyer: here, the interpretation leaves a very slight notion of extra, unnecessary urge. However, this is hardly noticeable.

VI. Bourrée (1’15”)

Apart from Christian Tetzlaff, this is the fastest performance—however, I would rate this very close to Isabelle Faust’s. Only very rarely and momentarily it feels too fast. In general, it is technically superb, masterful, fascinating. Yes, in terms of colors and “inner life”, it can’t compete with Amandine Beyer’s interpretation—nevertheless…

VII. Gigue (1’42”)

With Augustin Hadelich, we have definitely arrived a the “fast end” of the comparison. Fast it is, indeed—but what a performance! detailed and controlled down to the tiniest of details—yet relaxed, playful, simply pure joy to listen to! Sure, it’s not on gut strings—but still, it does not give the impression of exceedingly polished perfection. Hadelich is able to fill the performance with life, to make the phrases speak. Nothing feels breathless or pushed—simply excellent.

Total Duration: 17’50”

Rating: 4 / 5 / 4 / 4 / 5 / 5 / 5 = 4.57

Comment: Even though it’s not a “100% HIP” recording (no gut strings, modernized instrument), this comes very close to the very top historically informed interpretations. Augustin Hadelich simply is an astounding artist with huge technical reserves. He puts his lifeblood into his performances. Strongly recommended.


At the end of this extended “monster comparison series” I can happily state that my comparison results are fairly consistent across all of the “Sei Solo“. For the complete results from all of the “Sei Solo” see the Comparison Summary post. For the results on Partita No.3 see the above table, which should speak for itself. If you have made it up to this point: thanks a lot for reading, and for your interest!

Other Review Posts on J.S. Bach’s “Sei Solo“, BWV 1001 – 1006


Some of the media / recordings were kindly supplied by agencies and artists for the purpose of this review:

The author would like to thank for these submissions. In fact, they motivated me (after years of pondering the idea), finally to tackle this major project in earnest.

Addendum: A Recording Featuring the Partita in E major, BWV 1006a, Performed on the Luth

The CD set below is no longer available via regular channels—I’m still quoting it, as it is what I have been (also) listening to.

The Artist, the American lutenist Hopkinson Smith (*1946, see also Wikipedia), has since made additional recordings. Some of these feature transcriptions of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, such as the complete “Sei Solo“, BWV 1001 – 1006, and the Cello Suites, BWV 1007 – 1012. These can still be found on the regular channels (I’m not adding more references here, as I don’t have these recordings). However, from the CD below, I definitely like Hopkinson Smith’s performances. I also encountered Hopkinson Smith in live performances in the late 1970s, on the occasion of the Monteverdi cycle at the Zurich Opera House. He then was a member of the Zurich Monteverdi Ensemble, under the direction of Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929 – 2016).

The CD below includes the following works:

Bach: The Works for Lute

Hopkinson Smith, Lute

Astrée / Auvidis E 7721 (2 CDs stereo, ℗ 1981/1982)
Booklet: 24pp., fr/en


Literature References

Harnoncourt, N. (1983). Musik als Klangrede : Wege zu einem neuen Musikverständnis : Essays und Vorträge. Residenz Verlag, Salzburg. ISBN 978-3-7017-0315-9.

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