Bach: “Sei Solo” — Partita No.2 in D minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1004

Media Review / Comparison


2022-08-07 — Original posting


Table of contents


Introduction — The Recordings

This posting is about the Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, 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:

RecordingFirstNameLastNameBornDeathWikiWebPitch HzReviewSummary
2019AtillaAldemir1975
WikiWeba' = 433ReviewArtist, Media
2009KristófBaráti1979
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
2011AmandineBeyer1974
WikiWeba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
2017SebastianBohren1987
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
2012ChristineBusch


Weba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
2018GiulianoCarmignola1951
Wiki
a' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
2019TomásCotik


Weba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
2009IsabelleFaust1972
Wiki
a' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
1961ArthurGrumiaux19211986Wiki
a' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
2020AugustinHadelich1984
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
1997MonicaHuggett1953
Wiki
a' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
2009AlinaIbragimova1985
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
2009SergeyKhachatryan1985
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
1980GidonKremer1947
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
2001GidonKremer1947
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
1934YehudiMenuhin19161999Wiki
a' = 433ReviewArtist, Media
2008ViktoriaMullova1959
WikiWeba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
1995VitoPaternoster1957
WikiWeba' = 443ReviewArtist, Media
2011ThomasPietsch1955

Weba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
2018MikhailPochekin1990

Weba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
1999RachelPodger1968
WikiWeba' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
1985JaapSchröder19252020Wiki
a' = 415ReviewArtist, Media
1967HenrykSzeryng19181988WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
1956JosephSzigeti18921973Wiki
a' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
2005ChristianTetzlaff1966
WikiWeba' = 440ReviewArtist, Media
1982ThomasZehetmair1961
Wiki
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.2 in D minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1004

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.2 in D minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1004 does not feature an introductory movement. Rather, it adds an extra movement, the famous Ciaccona, i.e, a Chaconne. 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.2 in D minor, in various concert reviews:


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. 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.

I. Allemande

The Allemande, as well as the other, original suite components, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue, all consist of two parts, each with repeat signs.

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, I. Allemande, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, I. Allemande, score sample

II. Courante

Superficially, this movement isn’t overly complex—in 3/4 time, mostly linear and dominated by quaver triplet movements. There are intermittent bars in punctuated rhythm—and integrating these into the flow often proves tricky. It may indeed make the movement sound / feel unwieldy, bulky. Some of the bulkiness also stems from the uneasiness of large tonal jumps and “out-of-place” semiquavers in punctuated motifs (e.g., in bars 27, 29, 30/31), requiring bow jumps over strings.

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, II. Courante, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, II. Courante, score sample

III. Sarabande

In a deviation from the simple (two-part) AA’BB’ scheme, this Sarabande uses a slightly more elaborate scheme around the repeat of the second part. And there are four extra bars, forming a kind of Coda.

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, III. Sarabande, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, III. Sarabande, score sample

IV. Gigue

Apart from the first two bars (one bar only in the second part), this Gigue (Giga) is almost entirely in semiquavers. So, it looks busy—nevertheless, one should keep in mind that the 12/8 meter is to be counted in 3-quaver units (4 beats per bar). And, as the Gigue is a fast, joyful dance, the tempo should not be too slow (also because the phrasing in the semiquaver sequences may cause the listener to sense two beats per bar only). At the same time, the long sequences of (mostly detached) bears the danger of monotony, of “machine-like” action. Note that this is one of the few movements with (scarce) dynamic annotations (a p segment in each of the two parts).

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, IV. Giga, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, IV. Giga, score sample

V. Ciaccona

The famous Ciaccona (for many the pinnacle of violin solo literature) is built around a four-bar harmonic scheme:

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, V. Ciaccona, score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, V. Ciaccona, score sample

After an intense climax in polyphonic arpeggiando, the movement modulates to D major, for the serene, central “chorale” part. The term “chorale” is not by Bach, but merely what some commenters are referring to.

Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, V. Ciaccona (middle part), score sample
Bach: Sei Solo, Partita No.2 for Violin Solo in D minor, BWV 1004, V. Ciaccona (middle part), score sample

With a surprising, direct move, the music returns to the original D minor. Some people suggest that this movement is an emotional, moving tribute to Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara Bach (1684 – 1720)? This theory is controversial, though.

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.2 in D minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1004 — comparison table (© Rolf Kyburz)
Bach: Partita No.2 in D minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1004 — comparison table (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)

I have not corrected the timings for trailing or leading blank time (the former especially with last movements, the latter sometimes with the first movement). Therefore, the timings in the above table should be read with a grain of salt.

Repeats

Not all artists perform all repeats. In the cases where repeats were omitted (movements I, II, III, IV), 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“. 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 represent 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.

Audiophile?

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.

Wordy? Duplications…

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.

This particular comparison turned out wordier than anticipated. This is largely due to the Chaconne (Ciaccona): from the sheer size alone, that movement is almost comparable to the first four movements. Moreover, it’s a complex and multifaceted composition in itself. With some artists, it approaches the complexity a complete Sonata or Partita. Therefore, two or three sentences will typically not suffice to describe and judge an interpretation.


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. Allemande (3’51”, second repeat not performed)

At first, the sound quality feels amazing for a recording that is over 85 years old. However, at a second glance, I sensed a distinct “noise breathing”, as the de-noising followed the pitch of the music. As a result, the recording feels a tad “over-processed”. That’s of course not the artist’s fault.

The vibrato is omnipresent, of course (to be expected for that time), a tad nervous, and occasionally too prominent (as is the ritardando in the final bars). Similarly, a sign of the age of the recording: the absence of agogic / dance swaying. With these limitations, it is one of the better historic recordings—a historic document.

II. Courante (2’46”)

Rather straight, non-elastic in the pace, and—as the Allemande—devoid of agogic / dance swaying, a tad more rigid and straight than Grumiaux’ recording. On the brighter side, Menuhin’s vibrato (on longer / ending notes) is slightly less intrusive.

III. Sarabande (4’35”)

Persistent, dense tone, f almost throughout, rather straight rhythm / pace, with very little (if any) agogics, no swaying / elasticity. Just a rallentando towards end notes. Very little dynamic shaping of motifs (if any, then it’s hardly noticeable, and at the level of long phrases). The main dynamic “feature” is in the coda, which is rallentando and diminuendo down to pp / morendo.

IV. Gigue (3’17”, second repeat not performed)

Not far from the interpretation by Henryk Szeryng, though of course with even more (and more nervous) vibrato, and even broader articulation in the quavers. Minimal in the agogics, but with 4 beats per bar, it feels reasonably fast. Rather (too) relentless and mechanical in the semiquavers, not even allowing for a little relaxing around the double bar (just a prominent rallentando at the end).

V. Ciaccona (14’44”)

Verve, intensity, density, full sonority, the melody in broad, but elastic portato, of course with a prominent and somewhat nervous, but still fairly harmonious vibrato. Energetic chords on top of an intensely singing, punctuated melody. Calm semiquavers (bars 28ff), still in broad, vibrant portato. Here, the vibrato really would not be needed. Calm, continuous flow, with relentless urgency that only relaxes with the descending scales in bars 49ff. Thereafter, the portato approaches a broad staccato (always with vibrato, of course).

With the arrival of demisemiquaver motifs, the associated semiquavers revert to a very resolute portato / staccato. The paired semiquavers starting in bar 81 are intensely lyrical, and the demisemiquaver figures from bar 85 on retract into an almost whispering pp, which harmoniously leads into the extended arpeggio segment. Menuhin holds back the crescendo until bar 101. The performance intensifies, up to the climax at the octave in bar 133, which at the same time is the pivot to D major.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Not surprisingly, the D major section starts highly romantic, temporarily building emphasis in the polyphonic segment, then returning to lyricism (and excessive, permanent vibrato) with the semiquavers lines. There is another, consequent build-up that culminates at the end of the second arpeggio section, i.e., the second pivotal point and abrupt return to D minor.

Yes, there is very little in terms of agogics, no Klangrede—but still, Menuhin’s large, consequent and harmonious build-ups, his ability never to lose tension are impressive.

Total Duration: 29’13”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 2 / 2 / 4 = 2.80

Comment: Without any doubt, this is a very valuable historic document, especially for those interested in Menuhin, Bach performances in the first half of the 20th century, or the history of violin playing in general. Even though next to HIP performances some of this may be hard to listen to.


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. Allemande (3’14”, no repeats performed at all)

Very hard to listen to, I’m afraid. For one, the interpretation is devoid of dance character and agogics to speak of—and slower than anybody else. Yes, he does observe the ligatures. However, Szigeti plays all detached notes with the same, uniform, broad portato, with occasional tendency towards belly notes. Moreover, every note is loaded with heavy (if not clumsy) vibrato, to a degree that often enough obscures the intonation. A recording from a time long gone (and hopefully not to return!).

II. Courante (3’37”)

Not sure what is Courante here (translates to “running”!): slow (by far the slowest performance), heavy, clumsy, the punctuated motifs stiff and gross—like a forester at work. I don’t feel at ease with many of the transitions from punctuated motifs to triplets and back. Finally, a vibrato that almost throws me off the chair, and a pathetic rallentando at the end.

III. Sarabande (3’32”, second repeat not performed)

With his overly heavy, persistent vibrato, Joseph Szigeti slowly, very slowly crawls through the Sarabande, straightly playing out every single note, essentially isolating every crotchet. He deprives the piece of any sense of rhythm, every note of its individual weight (with the rare exception of a few semiquaver scales and demisemiquaver figures). Too slow. Where’s the phrasing, the agogics, let alone any sense of dance movement?

IV. Gigue (4’22”)

A traditional interpretation, of course. Yet, it’s not the worst of Szigeti’s movements. The tempo is close to the average, and Szigeti observes Bach’s notation. One exception: Szigeti binds the d’—c# in bar 5 (second and third quaver)—Bach didn’t write a slur. Szigeti’s articulation is relatively clear—only if one scrutinizes the recording, one notes occasional, tiny / marginal superficialities in some of the semiquaver figures, and I suspect that the tone (bow) control isn’t quite what it used to be—the roughness in the sonority is not caused by gut strings!

V. Ciaccona (16’07”)

Theme: harsh, almost “military” accents / chords, heavy punctuations, while the melody line either sounds like a shaky left hand (where it is at the top of the accented chords), or the vibrato is so heavy that it trashes the intonation. Deviating from the notation, in the punctuations in the first bars, Szigeti repeats the chord on the quavers. In bar 17, the performance turns very mellow and gentle, gradually building up again, intensifying the expression—unfortunately into a load of excessive, whining portamenti. In the semiquaver passages, the vibrato really hurts. Heavy slow-down towards bar 48. The subsequent slurs are taken as phrasing arches, the semiquavers now executed as staccato.

The staccato rather noisily persists into the variation at bar 65 (except for the demisemiquavers). The variation at bar 77 then is exceedingly mellow & sweet. The arpeggio variation is the best part so far (no chance for vibrato!)—until it turns into sautillé (bar 114), gradually broadening, back into regular arpeggiando. The ritardando is really excessive, ending in a near-endless trill (bar 132).

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The “chorale” theme (bar 133) is very soft and legatissimo. Szigeti then builds an extreme contrast to the first variation at bar 141, now a strict, almost harsh staccato that gradually changes into a broad portato. In the next variation (with the semiquaver line), the chord interjections stand out as completely isolated. And in bar 153, the semiquavers mutate to a dry spiccato. This dry articulation persists up till bar 177, where the polyphony begins near-legato, mutating into broad portato. The final D major segment starts as regular arpeggio, ending in two dry, outbursting chords (bar 208) and a legato cadence.

Given the circumstances (the artist’s technique had already deteriorated considerably and noticeably), the performance of the Chaconne is still a very respectable achievement—clearly the artist’s best on this Partita. Even though it is an interpretation out of this time—a historic document, no less, no more.

Total Duration: 30’52”

Rating: 1 / 1 / 1 / 2 / 3 = 1.60

Comment: As stated above, a document that offers a perspective into past interpretation history, at least in the Chaconne. That movement is of some general interest, while a general audience will hardly draw much interest, let alone pleasure, from the first movements. I can recommend this only if you have a particular interest into Joseph Szigeti, and/or if you want to learn about historic performances of the Chaconne.


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 (almost) all second repeats.

I. Allemande (3’08”, second repeat not performed)

Grumiaux played from a facsimile of the manuscript. And yes, he does observe all of Bach’s slurs etc.—however, apart from that, what did he think he was extracting from the composer’s handwriting? The articulation is absolutely uniform: the broad portato that appears to have been fashionable or tradition 60 years ago. There are no agogics to speak of, let alone dance swaying. Consequently, the pace is about as flexible as a rolling train (apart from the ritardando at the double bar or at the end). The dynamics show some differentiation, but never appear to be narrating. There is Grumiaux’ usual vibrato—but that’s the least of the worries!

II. Courante (1’58”, second repeat not performed)

Far better than the Allemande: dancing, with momentum, verve, relatively light articulation. True, not much in terms of Klangrede / agogics: uniform pace throughout the movement, except for the final rallentando. And there is Grumiaux’ prominent vibrato, especially on longer / ending notes. But still a good / very reasonable, traditional interpretation.

III. Sarabande (3’07”)

Very (too) fluent, constant, prominent and nervous vibrato, broad portato articulation almost throughout. Rhythmically virtually straight, devoid of agogics (let alone dance swaying), often so regular and “flat” as to be boring, lacking both periodic relaxing and tension. Expressive (occasionally almost eruptive) dynamics brighten up the picture, but can’t compensate for the lack of “rhythmic life” at the level of motifs and phrases. Beautiful, intense and dense / full sonority alone is not enough for a good interpretation.

IV. Gigue (3’07”, second repeat not performed)

The opening bars are resolute, clear “statements”—but thereafter, Grumiaux relentlessly runs (“saws”) through the semiquavers, devoid of agogics, let alone dance feeling / swaying: technically good, busy, earnest—and not much fun.

V. Ciaccona (13’26”)

Straight, broad, intense. The punctuated melody in bars 8ff has verve, but also a rather nervous and prominent vibrato. The latter doesn’t affect the intonation—but still is a distraction, later even an irritation. The same holds true for the quavers in bars 25ff. What actually hurts even more is the absolute agogic indifference, for which dynamics are no substitute. As other artists (e.g., Atilla Aldemir, Sebastian Bohren) Grumiaux switches to a faster pace around bar 60. Here, this change is momentary and appears to lack motivation.

At bar 65 (descending scales), Grumiaux again switches to a slightly faster pace. It feels as if he intended to demonstrate agility and fluent demisemiquaver runs? In bar 76 then, there is an almost dramatic ritardando for the subsequent semiquaver variation (rich in vibrato again). For the transition to the initial theme (where intensity = vibrato), the arpeggio ends in another, fairly dramatic ritardando.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The “chorale” theme is soft, with expressive dynamics and even more expressive (i.e., excessive) vibrato. With the triple stop segment (bars 141ff), the interpretation turns rather resolute—and accelerates again. More, continuous acceleration from bar 160 onwards: gone is the calm nature of the chorale theme. The restless acceleration leads to the culmination in bar 184—and the calm never returns. Rather, Grumiaux keeps pulling into the arpeggio section, after which the interpretation finally seems to relax.

The second D minor part is again loaded with vibrato, now also on semiquavers. It features a dramatic build-up into the cadenza. Needless to say that the artist ends the piece in an excessive ritardando and an endless, intense fermata on the last note.

Total Duration: 24’46”

Rating: 2 / 3 / 2 / 3 / 3 = 2.60

Comment: Very much of a traditional, if not old-fashioned interpretation. Enough said.


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. Allemande (3’14”, second repeat not performed)

The time is definitely over for such interpretations that move along with the relentlessness of a steamroller. The vibrato is bearable, but the articulation is the same, uniform portato almost throughout. Yes, there is some phrasing—in articulation and dynamics only. It’s as if agogics hadn’t been invented yet. Consequently, there is no swaying / dance feeling at all.

II. Courante (2’21”, second repeat not performed)

Also here: very traditional in the broad, romantic portato articulation. Slow, a Courante at best in 9/8 time (maybe). No swaying, rather boring due to lack of agogics and differentiation in articulation, dynamics, etc.; flawless technique is no substitute for any of this.

III. Sarabande (4’19”)

No agogics to speak of—just one single, long tapeworm, even across the first double barline, legato / broadest portato and uniform vibrato throughout. I would not even call any of this “phrasing”. Extra ornaments of occasional jeu inégal? Not a chance! A more neutral / sterile performance is hardly possible.

IV. Gigue (3’29”, second repeat not performed)

The articulation of the quavers is very broad, and of course (not surprisingly) with vibrato, and portato for non-slurred notes. Szeryng does apply some dynamic differentiation as his main means of phrasing. Apart from that, the piece feels like a single sequence of relentless semiquavers, devoid of agogics, rhythmically mechanic. Cleanly played, with drive and some (mainly dynamic) swaying, but old-fashioned, and too slow overall for a Gigue in 12/8 time.

V. Ciaccona (14’31”)

Absolutely straight, broad portato—no elasticity whatsoever, static. Gradually, Szeryng adds vibrato, and only with the punctuated segment (bars 9ff), the melody line attains some vibrancy and tension within a single motif. Deviating from the notation, in the punctuations in the first bars, Szeryng repeats the chord on the quavers (like Joseph Szigeti). At a larger scale, though, the interpretation feels rather static especially in the rather constant pace. Yes, there is a minimal amount of agogics, and dynamic shaping of 1- or 2-bar phrases. Starting in bar 53, there is a subtle acceleration—but that feels accidental (from neglect?) rather than by conscious choice. To cut a long description short: a very traditional performance.

The first, longer arpeggio segment features a middle part where the artist triples the peak (lowest and highest) notes. Unusual, to say the least, and neither elegant, nor (in my opinion) beneficial for the overall interpretation.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Initially absolutely flat and quasi-legato. The articulation does change to staccato temporarily, but remains devoid of Klangrede, i.e., there is little “local agogics”. Yes, the music is beautiful, but why this broad, flat, vibrating quasi-legato? Of course, it’s technically well-played, but eons from how this music might have sounded at Bach’s time, in the composer’s mind.

Total Duration: 27’54”

Rating: 2 / 2 / 2 / 2 / 2 = 2.00

Comment: In my youth, this used to be one of my favorite violinists. Certainly not so now—I’m losing interest in such traditional interpretations.


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. Allemande (3’52”)

From the point-of-view of articulation, Kremer’s first performance has picked up a lot from the “HIP camp”; there is of course still plenty of vibrato—prominent, but naturally swaying. The tone is very dense, the pace very fluent for an Allemande—and unfortunately a bit too steady: I miss baroque agogics, more lively, “speaking” dynamics, and some relaxing at the end of a phrase: rather, Kremer keeps pulling forward, relentlessly. Overall, a romantic interpretation with a few “HIP ingredients”.

II. Courante (2’23”)

The tempo is just a tad faster than in Kremer’s 2001 recording. In comparison to the latter, the early recording isn’t just more traditional in the general approach, there is also a slight tendency to under-emphasize minor weak parts of a phrase. It also feels a tad pushed, restless, could be more relaxed. However, it’s still way better than most recordings that existed at the time of this one.

III. Sarabande (3’29”)

A highly (too) romantic interpretation, often highly expressive, with abundant vibrato and broad, near-legato articulation. Interestingly, Kremer carefully shapes small motifs, such as pairs of quavers with subtle jeu inégal—but then, oddly, chains of semiquavers, such as in bar 5, appear almost boring, completely uniform. Why? There is the occasional agogic sway and expressive bursts—but no persistent dance swaying. Overall, this leaves the impression of some incoherence, as if the artist hadn’t decided yet where to go with the interpretation of this movement?

IV. Gigue (3’51”)

The introductory bars are not resolute (as in many other interpretations), but mellow in the articulation, somewhat retained in the dynamics, with romantic (not overly intrusive) vibrato. The subsequent semiquavers follow at a rapid pace, with virtuosic spiccato—and soon, the liven up, develop almost dramatic inner life, bursting from excitement and expression. Close to overdone, maybe. An interesting, extreme interpretation, for sure, radical in its way, far from polished perfection.

V. Ciaccona (12’55”)

21 years before his 2001 recording, Gidon Kremer’s interpretation still reflects the style of his teachers—most prominently David Oistrakh (1908 – 1974). Every tone in the opening is a broad portato. Relentless energy and intensity throughout the first 16 bars. After that, the articulation turns more mellow, lighter. The pace is slightly broadening with the quavers in bar 25. In all this, the artist is careful and detailed in articulation, dynamics and agogics—a lively narration in all phrases and motifs.

It’s a colorful and differentiated interpretation—quite far from the extreme contrasts of his 2001 recording, but still anticipating many of the latter’s features. It also feels noticeably faster, especially towards and in the arpeggio section, where the bowing appears slightly less controlled, the sound more noisy. Only towards the return of the initial theme, the pace calms down again.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The beginning of the “chorale” part is almost as cautious and soft as to feel a tad shaky. The noticeable and occasionally a tad nervous vibrato may contribute to this impression. From bar 141 onwards, the pace accelerates towards the segment with semiquavers (bars 149ff). A gradual, continuous dynamic build-up, in which also the articulation broadens / densifies, leads into the broad, intense polyphonic segment starting in bar 177. Initially quasi-legato, with the triple- and quadruple stop chords, the articulation changes to expressive, broad arpeggio strokes. These further intensify for the climax (bar 191 up to the second arpeggio), associated also with intense vibrato, the upper voices quasi-legato.

Overall, I would rate Gidon Kremer’s 1980 interpretation of the Chaconne as nearly as colorful and rich as his 2001 recording, though not just faster, but also more aiming for continuity, the big development / dramatic arches, rather than local expression and contrasts. In the “big moments”, such as the “chorale” section and its climax, the intensity of the 1980 interpretation certainly comes close to that of the 2001 recording.

Total Duration: 26’40”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 3 / 4 / 4 = 3.20

Comment: An impressive and interesting interpretation, though not as coherent and conclusive as the 2001 recording by the same artist, which I definitely prefer.


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. Allemande (4’51”)

Somewhat of a “mixed bag”: very detailed phrasing and articulation, but with a tendency to exaggerate dynamic contrasts, articulation, as well as agogics (I would even call this “close to rubato” at times). HIP in the vibrato-less endnotes. This contrasts with the fairly prominent vibrato elsewhere (e.g., around the climax of a phrase). Some of the gestures are a bit too theatrical (dynamics, articulation).

II. Courante (2’03”)

This tops even the fastest performances—tempo-wise. Sadly, this is clearly over the top: really breath- and restless, with numerous superficialities, such as successive notes sounding simultaneous, others almost getting swallowed at the swirling pace, whilst others are getting excess emphasis. A dance? A race, rather…

III. Sarabande (3’17”)

In a quest for strong (often explosive) expression, Thomas Zehetmair uses double punctuations in the punctuated crotchets in bars 1, 2, and 9. Also otherwise, he applies rather “impulsive agogics” and articulation (often abrupt détaché), i.e., rhythmic “sharpening” of upbeats and other short note values. Definitely a performance full of tension, even suspense, with strong dynamic outbursts and almost extreme agogics. The vibrato fits into that approach, hence does not hurt in the context of this dramatic interpretation. It’s not a typical, calmly swaying Sarabande, but certainly consistent, consequent and coherent—impressive, dramatic, maybe exotic? Fascinating and interesting in its own way.

IV. Gigue (3’57”)

I don’t sense real rushing, despite a rather fluent tempo—but fairly extreme agogics, highly colorful playing in sonority, articulation and dynamics, technically excellent, even though never aiming for polished perfection. Very busy, and sometimes at the limit of being “too active”, in demonstratively shaping dynamics and articulation (no playfulness and/or relaxed dance swaying). Definitely interesting, enthralling.

V. Ciaccona (11’29”)

Thomas Zehetmair’s Chaconne takes a full minute less than Isabelle Faust’s, 1.5 minutes less than Amandine Beyer’s. The artist definitely takes the Ciaccona into the domain of baroque dances, with extreme, bouncing agogics (double punctuations in the initial motifs). It’s unusual, to say the least. Actually, the jolly bouncing soon turns into a “feature” on its own—and getting “too much”, if not a nuisance, really. Also, by now, the prominent and fairly ubiquitous vibrato no longer really fits into this context.

In the subsequent segments (bars 25ff), the artist’s preference for exaggerations, not just in agogics (rubato, really), but also in extreme contrasts in articulation and dynamics make this performance more of a virtuosic showpiece. Even just within the arpeggio segment, the variations in Arpeggio pattern are extreme and seem to serve no other purpose than as virtuosic show. Yes, the artist’s technical abilities are astounding, but…

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

In my view, the “chorale” segment is better—but also not devoid of unnecessary extras. For example: in analogy to the D minor opening theme, Zehetmair uses double punctuations, which I think don’t really suit the calm, serene nature of this music. This part definitely is not a bouncing dance! Moreover: in bars 141 – 146, Zehetmair manages to apply double punctuations amidst the 3- and 4-voice polyphony with its triple- and quadruple-stop chords in regular quavers. An astounding technical achievement—but also truly exotic, if not weird, unheard of. Exaggerated contrasts in articulation and dynamics also in the semiquaver segment up to bar 174.

With bar 175, the double punctuations of course return to the fullest, now preventing any kind of “regular / continuous” flow. I must say, though, that I really like the beautiful, added fioritura in bar 203, amidst the second, shorter arpeggio segment.

Total Duration: 25’36”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 4 / 4 / 3 = 3.40

Comment: Thomas Zehetmair is a violinist with astounding technical prowess. In this early recording, though (made when he was 21), the artist tended to overshoot and exaggerate, which makes this performance “fall off-scale” in several ways. As mentioned in the comparison summary, the artist has since (2019) made a new recording of Bach’s “Sei Solo“, which very likely is worth exploring and probably (hopefully!) avoids some of the excesses reported here.


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. Allemande (4’55”)

Beautiful agogic swaying, careful in articulation and phrasing. Sparing use of vibrato—and where the artist uses it, it is inconspicuous. Extra ornaments are very rare (a single extra mordent on the final notes in repeats)—but that’s OK for an early HIP recording. The one minor quibble is in occasional, subtle rushing (e.g., in bars 9 – 11).

II. Courante (2’54”)

A very balanced approach at a “median pace”—balanced between triplets and punctuations. Excellent articulation and sonority. My only reservation is about the slight tendency to accelerate / rush through the punctuated segments.

III. Sarabande (3’49”)

Almost identical timing to Viktoria Mullova, Sebastian Bohren, Amandine Beyer. As an early / pioneering HIP exponent, Schröder didn’t quite dare playing without, or at least with very restricted vibrato. He can’t be blamed for this. Similarly, he did not use the opportunity for adding extra ornaments (I think that doing so in repeats is no sign of disrespect towards the composer—quite to the contrary). It is still an excellent performance and interpretation. My main quibble is about a tiny, but persistent amount of unrest throughout the interpretation. The fear of dropping tension / losing the pace?

IV. Gigue (4’30”)

Certainly not too fast, but carefully articulated, and in 4 beats per bar, it does feel like a Gigue. Good agogics, dynamics, and phrasing, very rare vibrato (on quavers only).

V. Ciaccona (13’56”)

Full-sounding arpeggio chords, the punctuated crotchets quasi-legato, engaged, active. Strangely, with the second punctuated quaver in bar 10, Jaap Schröder starts using double punctuations in select instances (typically on the second beat), and at bar 17, he uses a faster pace, the articulation is somewhere between single and double punctuations. This results in the sensation of slight tempo instability and marginally defined rhythm. From bar 25 onwards, the artist uses a broad portato, essentially all f. In general, however, the articulation is careful and well-defined.

For my personal feeling, there are occasional, subtle and brief tempo instabilities. Could this be because I expected a subtle, agogic (emphatic) broadening that the artist resisted doing? In any case, as far as I can see, the artist meticulously follows the notation (slurs, in particular), avoiding excesses (such as harsh staccato) in articulation. Sonority: the booklet states “baroque violin” and “baroque bow”. However, the empty e” string sounds rather metallic, often poignant—I doubt that the artist was using gut strings.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

For the D major part, Jaap Schröder takes back the volume to mf, but avoids excursions to extreme intimacy / subtlety, introversion (such as, e.g., Gidon Kremer’s 2001 recording). The focus here is on coherence, unification, rather than diversity in expression.

Total Duration: 30’04”

Rating: 4 / 4 / 5 / 4 / 4 = 4.20

Comment: Without doubt a pioneering HIP performance, solid, still excellent—though time has moved on, and meanwhile, I’d rather recommend one of the more recent HIP recordings (at least, for a first encounter).


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

Vito Paternoster, 1995 (Cello, G minor)

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. Allemande (3’45”)

Not unusual for this artist: the fastest of the performances in this comparison, a tad faster than Gidon Kremer’s 1980 recording. However, unlike the latter, it is “filled with baroque Klangrede“, “talking” in every phrase, rich in agogics and dynamics / phrasing. I actually prefer it over Atilla Aldemir’s viola interpretation—also because in this music, the cello can play out its beautiful, full sonority. It may be very fast for an Allemande—I still really like this recording! Paternoster adds a few, inconspicuous, well-integrated ornaments—not just in the repeats. Not sure whether these are part of the cello manuscript that the artist refers to. In any case, I have no objections whatsoever, given that the G minor key and the transposition onto the cello already place this into the rank of an arrangement. It’s well worth listening to!

II. Courante (2’16”)

One might say that in tempo and character of the interpretation, Vito Paternoster “follows Amandine Beyer‘s footsteps”—though, of course, his recording pre-dates Beyer’s by 16 years. Both are really fast, swirling Courante dances in true 3/4 time. On the cello, however, the tempo is pushed even closer to the limits, and the heavier instrument causes more focus on the “by-noises”, which tend to distract (slightly) from the musical content. And the fast pace makes some of the triplet passages sound a tad superficial.

III. Sarabande (3’29”)

With its strong dynamics, this interpretation reminds me of Gidon Kremer’s 2001 recording. It is almost as impulsive, but wild, less controlled in the sudden dynamic outbursts. These even appear on minor / rhythmically weak notes (e.g., in bow upstreaks), sometimes also as strong / extreme “belly dynamics”. As with Kremer, the excess of (often violent) “local expression” makes the piece sound fragmented, fall apart. The rich set of extra ornaments doesn’t compensate for this—rather to the contrary. Yes, it is rich and impressive for the performance of a violin piece on the cello—but in my view it misses the purpose of a slow movement in a baroque suite / Partita.

IV. Gigue (3’43”)

Very fast: same timing as Christian Tetzlaff and Augustin Hadelich—on the cello! Not really stressed, not mechanical, maybe even slightly playful, but still relentlessly storming forward through the semiquavers. The articulation (slurs) deviates from the notation in several of the quaver passages, and there is a questionable, added acciaccatura in bar 2 (third beat). Also, the p and f annotations appear to be ignored, which causes the impression of a (slightly) careless interpretation. A few superficialities in the semiquavers—but that is to be expected at the chosen pace. Shouldn’t this be at least a bit relaxed, “dancing”?

V. Ciaccona (12’07”)

Already in Bach’s Partita No.1 (B minor, in his case E minor), Vito Paternoster sported the fastest tempo for most movements. Also here (in the Chaconne, as well as overall), just violinists (Thomas Zehetmair and Tomás Cotik) play faster than he does in this comparison. Beyond any doubt, Vito Paternoster is an outstanding cellist with exceptional technical reserves. He seems to have a preference for fast tempo in general (just because he can do it?). In the case of the Chaconne, he is again trying to match the agility of the violin, to beat the cello’s inherently slower acoustic response, it’s added technical challenges (for the left hand, in particular). In addition, he must be convinced that the Chaconne is a fluent, traditional dance.

Interestingly, the beginning does not feel all that fluent at all: Vito Paternoster takes the triple- and quadruple-stop chords at a measured tempo, as isolated, sequential arpeggi, often ending just with the top string alone, on which he then (mostly / often) places a “swelling accent”. I’m not a particular friend of the latter. In bars 8ff, he tends to over-punctuate, the short notes (semiquavers, demisemiquavers) are all very short, like casual ornaments. And the swelling accents are a bit too much of a “feature”, here and also later.

Sonority, Clarity, Tempo, Agility

If I’m not mistaken, there are some deviations to the score in the articulation (slurs) in the semiquaver segment (bars 36ff). These are mostly inconspicuous and may originate from the specifics of the cello’s string arrangement and bowing. The instrument has much more of a (negative) impact through its sonority: the characteristics of the registers don’t play out in favor of the cello here. At the artist’s fluent pace, the slower response of the C and G strings doesn’t help the clarity in the low register.

Between bars 57 and 60, Paternoster accelerates—substantially: the demisemiquaver figures in bars 65ff are beyond the point where the cello can still articulated clearly. The result feels agile, virtuosic—but also full of superficialities. The latter even more so in the cadenza (bars 85 – 88) leading into the arpeggio, which is very fast and fairly noisy, the polyphony hardly discernible. And for the return of the initial theme, the artist needs to slow down dramatically. Fascinating as a virtuosic display, maybe—but (for me, at least) not very compelling, musically.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The dark sonorities of the C, G, and d strings don’t play out favorably for the “chorale” theme. The composition can’t profit from the singing quality of the instrument’s a string: the melody is primarily dark, the lower (accompaniment) voices rather noisy, the harmonies hard(er) to recognize. Strange idea: in bars 161 & 162, the third and fourth semiquavers appear as semiquaver triplet (three notes, not two). In this prominent position (peak notes), this is not an ornament, but rather disrupts the rhythmic structure / flow. To me, the instrument sonority, the tempo, the noise in the artist’s articulation don’t reflect the serene nature of the D major part.

In bars 210 – 214, the final D minor part contains various alterations to the text. I don’t know whether these are adaptations to help the bowing on the cello, or whether they are simply the artist’s voluntary additions.

An interesting, maybe even fascinating performance. However, I suspect that Bach’s writing in the Chaconne is too specifically tailored to the characteristics of the violin to make the cello a really viable option / alternative. At least, not in Vito Paternoster’s interpretation, I think.

Total Duration: 25’19”

Rating: 4 / 4 / 3 / 3 / 3 = 3.40

Comment: In my view, this recording shows a mixed outcome. I do like the first two movements, but the others—particularly the Chaconne—seem less suited for the sonority & characteristics of the cello. Even though they certainly are amazing, technical achievements.


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. Allemande (5’23”)

Monica Huggett carefully observes all of Bach’s slurs / articulation. However, her phrasing feels overblown (in dynamics and articulation), occasionally short-breathed. More than that, there is barely any feel of continuous flow (which to me the dance character of the movement mandates). One example: why do the semiquaver triplets (e.g., in bars 2 & 3) feel rushed?

The artist uses vibrato sparingly. In the few peak notes (e.g., the e” in bar 2) where she does use it, the vibrato, too, feels exaggerated, heavy. Finally: Bach consciously contrasts semiquaver triplets against semiquaver+double demisemiquaver (“non-triplet”) motifs. Here, not just are the triplets often rushed, but occasionally, the non-triplet motifs appear rhythmically softened towards triplets (most prominently in bars 14/15).

II. Courante (3’00”)

On the slow side for a Courante in 3/4 time. More than the tempo, what irritates me is some tempo instability, especially with the punctuated segments, combined with occasional softening towards triplets (as already in the Allemande). There is also a certain monotony in the broadening and swelling of highlights / climaxes in phrases.

III. Sarabande (4’41”)

Almost as slow as Joseph Szigeti, but at least with some sense for connection and agogics at the level of (small) motifs. However, the outcome is hampered by the frequent and very prominent “belly accents”. The abundant / rich extra ornaments / fioriture in the repeats can’t compensate for this, I’m afraid, and I can’t really call this a dance—however slow it is.

IV. Gigue (4’48”)

Not much joy here. Already the first two bars are rhythmically inaccurate (subtle rushing around the center of the bar), if not rhythmically sloppy. Then, presumably in order to avoid the détaché semiquaver sequences to sound monotonous, the artist persistently accelerates in these passages, returning to the original pace at the end of a phrase. That feature by itself causes the impression of tempo instability. Finally, the p segments are just barely softer.

V. Ciaccona (14’08”)

Hmmm … I mentioned “belly accents” before; here, Monica Huggett applies to every motif in the theme, like: the first punctuated crotchet feels like a crescendo upbeat that erupts with the crotchet in the second bar—which is very short, ending abruptly. The artist keeps that articulation throughout the theme, and also thereafter, almost every beat feels like a little “belly eruption”. And also the semiquaver lines feature frequent “belly emphasis” on the beat / on key notes. Together with the extreme agogics and the tendency to use short (1-bar) phrases, the music feels highly fragmented. The best (most acceptable) part is the arpeggio segment, played with light articulation, transparent, without the previous excesses.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Things don’t improve in the “chorale” part, where every accent, often even every note has belly dynamics, and again the artist drives agogics to the extreme. The times of continuous, regular flow are long over, sure—but that does not imply that one should aim for the other extreme!

Total Duration: 32’00”

Rating: 2 / 2 / 3 / 2 / 2 = 2.20

Comment: I can’t recommend this (other than as an example how one should not approach a HIP interpretation).


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. Allemande (4’30”)

Articulation and phrasing, sonority, Klangrede and agogics are OK in general—apart from occasional, slight superficialities. My main reservation here is in the monotonous and prominent “belly dynamics” (going along with the agogics). Once one’s ear notices that, the performance soon turns monotonous overall (a prayer mill comes to mind!).

II. Courante (2’45”)

Slightly pushed in the tempo, but careful in articulation, dynamics and phrasing. Not all of the uneasy jumps (see above) feel natural / well-integrated. The disruption in the flow may be what Bach intended, but still…

III. Sarabande (4’29”)

Rachel Podger’s tempo is close to Monica Huggett’s—and also this performance features ubiquitous “belly accents”, which soon feel monotonous. For my taste, there is a little too much heavy vibrato on endnotes. And it eludes me why Rachel Podger—a well-known soloist and concertmaster specialized in baroque music—does not use the opportunity of adding even just a few extra ornaments?

IV. Gigue (3’59”)

Not too far from Gidon Kremer’s 2001 interpretation, but with the occasional superficiality, single tones (and short) uncontrollably breaking out from the line. Sonority / articulation control? I’m not expecting perfection, but here, some of the extra highlights appear only partially intentional. On the bright(er) side, Rachel Podger does add a few extra ornaments in repeats.

V. Ciaccona (13’32”)

Sadly, the artist spoils the beautiful sonority of her instrument not just with occasional Nachdrücken, but with highly uniform (and soon obnoxious) belly dynamics on every single motif, often even every single note (like: every single quaver in bars 33 – 35). She cultivates this “feature” to a degree that. If only one was able to “subtract” this oddity, one would end up with a very reasonable, if not even very good interpretation: I really do like the execution of the demisemiquaver figures, the arpeggios, but…

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The beginning of the “chorale” section is very good / nice, even beautiful, as long as it is all gentle and restrained. But as soon as Rachel Podger’s playing gets more expressive, the belly dynamics return—and the extra ornaments don’t compensate for this. The recording turns acceptable, maybe good again only with the détaché semiquavers (bars 153ff), where there is no opportunity to apply belly dynamics on tones or motifs. The oddities return with the quavers and crotchets in bars 177 – 199, temporarily to be resolved with the arpeggios.

Total Duration: 29’15”

Rating: 3 / 4 / 3 / 4 / 3 = 3.40

Comment: An excellent violinist on the baroque violin, offering beautiful (basic) sonority, excellent, clean, intonation and left hand technique, and a (usually) good sense for baroque ornamentation, who sadly spoils large parts of her performance with “bad habits” such as belly dynamics and Nachdrücken. Sorry, can’t recommend.


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. Allemande (4’22”)

A characterful, slightly rough / raw tone, lots of emphasis, somewhat over-articulated, slightly too demonstrative in phrasing, often with abrupt gaps between phrases. Almost extreme in agogics / Klangrede, which makes some passages sound rather fragmented. Extreme contrasts in phrasing / dynamics, and character of the phrases. Rough and direct passages with strong accents contrast with gentle and smooth segments.

II. Courante (2’27”)

At the same overall timing as Isabelle Faust and Alina Ibragimova, Gidon Kremer offers an interpretation that is very resolute, almost rude in the punctuated motifs, offering a stark contrast to the triplet segments. Of course, the interpretation follows Bach’s notation (although I don’t see staccato notation in the punctuated notes). A bit too direct for my taste, but still excellent. Where Sebastian Bohren integrates the isolated downstreak notes in the triplet segments, Kremer makes them stand out like percussive accents. Two opposite extremes.

III. Sarabande (3’29”)

Amazing, this difference to the same artist’s 1980 interpretation! The near-legato articulation is gone, as is the abundance in vibrato. Now, the articulation is light (often with little gaps between detached notes) and highly “percussive”—very often starting with an burst-like accent, followed by instant discharging. Highly expressive, even with little or sometimes no vibrato. Agogic shaping and strong dynamics are applied to the smallest of motifs. One downside is that the amount of local expression causes fragmentation, i.e., the listener gets caught in local detail, losing the sight onto big arches. The extreme expression and stands in the way of persistent dance swaying. Did the artist want too much, read too much into Bach’s notation?

IV. Gigue (4’03”)

Fast, virtuosic—though with a certain tendency to overemphasize key notes / motifs using dynamics (bursts / eruptions, strong accents) and (over-)articulation. It does not feel demonstrative—just an excess in emphasis / highlighting? Too active?

V. Ciaccona (14’00”)

A Chaconne theme filled with energy and verve, with the chord on the beat as a short, emphatic staccato. In bar 17, a stark contrast: the tone suddenly changes to a gentle, soft and fluting in the top voice—though maintaining the short articulation in the punctated motifs. Contrasts also in bars 33 – 35, between the gentle tones in the a’/e” strings and the resolute accents on the g string. The subsequent semiquaver variation is gentle, mellow, though with prominent, “speaking” agogics, shaping every phrase / motif.

The “duet” variation starting at bar 57 keeps the pace, but highlights the added voice (quavers in the upper voice) with accents on every tone. With the advent of demisemiquavers (bar 65ff), Kremer creates an intense dialog between contrasting characters, demisemiquaver motifs vis-à-vis semiquavers.

Bars 77 – 80, in broad portato, quasi-legato, form a transition to the gentle semiquaver pairs in bar 81ff. There is another transition to the softly “babbling” demisemiquaver figures that ultimately lead into the arpeggio segment. The latter keeps “babbling”—gradually intensifying, though, while also staying transparent, allowing the listener to follow the veiled polyphony. Finally, in preparation for the climax, Gidon Kremer slows the pace at bars 113ff, with focus on the bass line. The cadenza in bars 121 – 124 feels like “exhaustion after the climax”, leading back to the initial theme.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The “chorale” theme begins infinitely gentle, soft, intimate, introverted, almost whispering—otherworldly. From bar 141 on, the articulation mutates to staccato, gaining confidence and resoluteness. The only “hair in the soup” in my mind is that the transition to the semiquaver segment and the associated, slight change in pace don’t feel entirely natural. That resolves itself with the subtly fluting, gentle semiquavers from bar 153 on: serene, peaceful. As the music intensifies towards the culmination (bar 177), Gidon Kremer adds “speaking” agogics and lively dynamics. The intensity and persistent tension in the bars leading into the arpeggio, and the arpeggio itself are simply breathtaking.

The return to D minor feels like a mix of relief, resignation, “back down-to-earth”, hope, despair—all in an intense internal dialog, a prime example of Klangrede and almost extreme agogics!

Total Duration: 28’22”

Rating: 4 / 4 / 4 / 4 / 5 = 4.20

Comment: Much in the first four movements may feel a bit extreme, maybe polarizing—it is not untypical of this artist. However, there is no doubt in my mind that Gidon Kremer’s 2001 interpretation of the Chaconne not only demonstrates the greatness of Bach’s composition, but is a masterpiece in itself.


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. Allemande (4’15”)

Relatively light articulation, somewhat excessive agogic swaying, with equally exaggerated holding of peak notes. Especially, as Christian Tetzlaff uses vibrato and extra swelling to further highlight such peak notes. The dynamics (broad dynamic arches) are equally pronounced, exaggerated. The articulation is natural, clear, and detailed—Klangrede!

II. Courante (2’15”)

Along with Augustin Hadelich’s and Amandine Beyer’s performances (Vito Paternoster’s on the cello is somewhat special), this is in the group of fast performances that try realizing a “proper Courante tempo” in 3/4 time. Technically, Christian Tetzlaff’s performance is splendid, articulation, dynamics and phrasing are detailed—although here, the pace does not allow for much Klangrede and/or swaying dance agogics. Too technical, in a way.

III. Sarabande (4’04”)

The exact average pace among these recordings. A good overall approach, careful in the dynamics, but unfortunately with too much (ubiquitous, nervous) vibrato. This distracts from the (larger scale) phrasing and defeats the dance feeling (there isn’t much, if any, of the latter). The part I like best is in the coda, where the artist lets the tone fade out into pp, finally removing even the vibrato.

IV. Gigue (3’43”)

Technically excellent, and very sporty—too sporty. It is as if the artist’s prime objective was to be among the fastest. Already the introductory bars feel pushed, restless, driven. In all the semiquavers, there is no time/space for agogics, let alone dance swaying. Too driven, especially, when the artist appears to realize that he needs to re-accelerate to catch up with his tempo goal… Breathless, overall, up to and including the unnecessary appoggiatura on the final note.

V. Ciaccona (13’27”)

My listening sequence is from slow to fast, i.e., long overall timing to shortest. This is #17—and the first one where the D minor theme feels distinctly (more) fluent. Not only that, but Christian Tetzlaff plays with expressive, emphatic agogics and dynamics. He keeps the first beats in bars 2, 3, and 4 short, building tension during the punctuated crotchets. The impression of “fluent” is prominent for the first time when Tetzlaff connects the punctuated crotchet in bar 3 to the one in bar 5 in one single, swaying move, turning the semiquavers into written ornaments. However, also the short, punctuated motifs don’t feel static, but entail what one might call “dance swaying” that “pulls the listener along”.

From bar 8 onwards, the punctuated quavers further appear to pick up momentum. Highly expressive and emphatic playing—not through vibrato (there is very little), not so much through dynamics (the swaying persists in the softer segment starting in bar 17), but primarily through strong agogics. And every tone appears filled with rhythmic tension. Enthralling!

After the Punctuations…

Naturally, the absence of punctuations from bar 25 onwards moderates the rhythmic / agogic tension. Here, Christian Tetzlaff rather devotes utmost care to dynamics and articulation with every single note, every single motif / phrase, all gentle, and with utmost subtlety. The agogics are still very palpable, but now they don’t primarily serve to build tension, but to help sculpting phrases. Up to around bar 55, the artist keeps the tone soft, mellow, even sotto voce. Yet, the articulation is always clear, light.

The “duet” variation starting in bar 57 naturally leads to a more outgoing, joyful tone, and with the advent of the demisemiquavers, we are back in strong, enthralling agogic swaying, to the point where Christian Tetzlaff plays the motifs with a semiquaver, followed by 6 demisemiquavers in a single swing, almost shortening the first note to a demisemiquaver! This is of course not superficial playing, but intentional—fascinating, actually!

After the demisemiquavers, the artist gradually returns to subtle sotto voce playing (bars 81ff). And also here, in bar 84, the second and third beats feel almost like triplets, allowing for a seamless transition to the demisemiquaver cadenza that leads into the arpeggio segment. In the latter, Christian Tetzlaff is far from uniform, let alone mechanical playing. Rather, he puts subtle highlights (minute ritenuti) onto key notes, obviously focusing on the active melody voice (initially the lowers, then the middle voice, gradually entering 3-voice polyphony. Diligent, masterful, in a natural, broad dynamic arch.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Here again, Christan Tetzlaff begins sotto voce, very intimate, gentle. For once with a vibrato that occasionally is (albeit subtle) a bit nervous—a minor point, really. Even as he gradually raises the volume, his playing, especially the arpeggiated chords, remains careful, diligent, devoid of roughness. The semiquaver variations starting in bar 153 appears as very light, gentle staccato only broadening to a light portato where there are three semiquavers on the same note (bars 161ff), which then naturally evolves into the “doubled” instances (same note on two adjacent strings, bars 165ff), and these lead into the double and triple stop passages.

The second arpeggio segment is the climax of the D major section, hence more intense than the first one. After this, the D minor theme feels almost shy, but again with Tetzlaff’s expressive agogic swaying. The “dual string” variation (bars 229ff) is another build-up to the short demisemiquaver cadenza. The latter consists of an ascending and then descending scale. Most artists play that freely, with a culmination on the highest note. Christian Tetzlaff is among the few who avoid highlighting the highest note.

Total Duration: 27’43”

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

Comment: In my view, not all movements are at the same level. However, I find the interpretation of the Chaconne unique and masterful: hats off!


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. Allemande (4’20”)

Marvelous: perfectly natural tempo and flow, clear, swaying agogics, clear, detailed articulation (never, ever excessive or overly demonstrative, though), Klangrede at its best, dynamics that let phrasing bloom in gentle, wide arches. Devoid of vibrato, of course, and beautiful, rich gut string sonority!

II. Courante (2’38”)

Very natural, flowing tempo, entirely integrated, yet full of life, “language”, rich in agogics, beautiful phrasing—and the listener is never aware of any uneasiness in those tricky jumps (see above). Yes, it’s technically superb, but that does not preclude “local expression”, care for detail in the smallest of phrases, etc.

III. Sarabande (4’00”)

So calm, reflective, very selective in the (rare) vibrato. Less intensity overall (concentrated around climaxes), but more reflection than Isabelle Faust, more calm, more listening to the silences between the tones. Excellent dynamics, beautiful articulation and phrasing, both at the level of motifs (with gentle dance swaying), up to the long phrases (e.g., between double bar lines). Klangrede at its best. Viktoria Mullova uses extra ornaments very, very sparingly—but this is more than compensated by the care and diligence that she devotes to the shaping of even the shortest of motifs, such as a pair of quavers under a slur. Marvelous!

IV. Gigue (3’54”)

Absolutely superb playing! Despite a rapid pace, Viktoria Mullova’s performance feels relaxed, even playful, never pushed: a fast, swaying dance. Excellent articulation control, masterful in the detailed, diligent and “speaking” articulation, agogics, and dynamics. Yes, it is breathless—to the degree that the composer supposedly intended, judging from the manuscript. In this interpretation, there is no need for extra ornaments.

V. Ciaccona (13’25”)

Another gem, as expected! Unlike Gidon Kremer (2001), Viktoria Mullova does not opt for extreme diversity in character (dynamics, articulation, etc.) among the many variations. Rather, she opts for continuity, calm flow, and coherence. An interpretation that is entirely in the service of Bach’s music, faithful to the notation. Clarity, simplicity (little or no vibrato)—but by no means simplistic! Rather, there is a harmonious dynamic and rhythmic / agogic swaying. There are no excesses in articulation: the most “extravagant” feature may be the capricious, but subtle staccato quavers in the variation starting at bar 57.

There are also intimate, subtle moments, such as the paired semiquavers at bars 81ff, up top and including the first part of the arpeggio segment. The latter is beautifully breathing in harmonious waves, then returning to subtlety for the transition to the initial D minor theme.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The D major part begins like distant memories, extremely subtle, gentle, only gradually picking up intensity, returning to utmost simplicity again for the semiquaver segment (bars 153ff), building up again, very gently. No big / huge gestures in dynamics, not trumping up in climaxes, but beautiful, big arches. Even the return to D minor is gentle, not a harsh surprise: solace (and transfiguration?), not devastation or grief. Yes, there is a gentle climax up to the demisemiquaver cadenza—but then, even the initial theme appears moderated, rapidly retracts into tender calm, and peace.

Not polished perfection, but a masterpiece in harmony, phrasing, agogics, dynamics, articulation, overall concept…

Total Duration: 28’28”

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

Comment: Clearly one of my top favorites in this collection—hard to beat!


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. Throughout the entire recording, Kristóf Baráti consequently omits all second repeats.

I. Allemande (3’04”, second repeat not performed)

Perfect intonation and sonority, but (apart from notes under a slur) absolutely uniform and fairly rigid (often almost stiff) portato articulation, virtually devoid of agogics. Some dynamic differentiation, but a pace that is as steady and uniform as the articulation. There is vibrato, of course: mostly inconspicuous, but all the more standing out and romantic in peak and ending notes. 2009? Feels like 30 – 40 years ago, I’m afraid.

II. Courante (1’59”, second repeat not performed)

Technically perfect (articulation, intonation, sonority, dynamics control, etc.). Phrasing done mainly using dynamics and articulation. I did not expect Klangrede, gut string sound, etc.—but in the end, this is a bit too smooth and polished. One could say that the music in itself is “dancing” here—yet, what I miss a feeling of playfulness, of relaxedness: the entire performance feels a tad restless, letting me feel “pulled forward” all the time—despite a tempo that is slightly below the average.

III. Sarabande (2’27”, second repeat not performed)

The prime example of a “modern traditional” performance (“Szeryng style“): perfect playing, continuous vibrato. Absolute, continuous rhythmic regularity, devoid of agogic swaying (let alone Klangrede). Broad portato articulation, dynamics at best in the form of occasional, softer phrases—constant intensity and dense tone otherwise. Boring / uninteresting in comparison to most recent recordings. Sorry.

IV. Gigue (3’08”, second repeat not performed)

Technically perfect (bowing, intonation, sonority), careful in articulation and dynamics. About as good as a traditional interpretation can get. Not much dance feeling/ swaying at all—on the other hand, Baráti does shape bigger phrases, lets them end with a “suggested, tiny fermata“, rather than just running over to the next phrase.

V. Ciaccona (13’05”)

Strange for a recent recording: in the punctuations in the first bars, Kristóf Baráti deviates from the notation by repeating the chord on the quavers—like Joseph Szigeti and Henryk Szeryng. There is of course Baráti’s full, vibrato-rich sonority, and throughout the punctuations (up to bar 24), the performance is rhythmically rather rigid, and lacking rhythmic tension. This applies even more to the segment with regular quavers and semiquavers. All the artist does for phrasing is in dynamic build-ups and gradual acceleration up to the demisemiquaver variation (bars 65ff). Yes, the performance is near-perfect / technically flawless—and rather sterile, even within traditional performances.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Quasi-legato in the initial theme, tension-less. Very regular and static in the subsequent variations, and the successive acceleration does nothing to add tension—quite to the contrary. Agogics? No, not really.

Total Duration: 23’43”

Rating: 2 / 3 / 2 / 4 / 2 = 2.60

Comment: Those living with / in interpretations from the 50’s and 60’s may appreciate the instrumental perfection—but I doubt even that.


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 also the posting on the Sonata No.1 in G minor for Violin Solo, BWV 1001.

I. Allemande (5’37”)

Apart from two “extremist’s interpretations”, this is the slowest of the performances. And Isabelle Faust proves that a slow pace and the absence of vibrato don’t preclude dance swaying (a calm, agogic “breathing”), excellent agogics, even large phrases with a single, broad climax around bar 14 in the first half—excellent. And the few extra ornaments in the repeats are inconspicuous, feel absolutely natural. Beautiful, indeed!

II. Courante (2’30”)

Superb! Light, agile, full of life, detailed in phrasing, articulation and dynamics. And despite an above-average pace, Isabelle Faust avoids even traces of rushing. She even manages to add ornaments! There are a few inverted mordents even in the first passes, and a richer set of embellishments in the repeats—all perfectly fitting, natural, and never merely for the purpose of showing off! Needless to say that despite the total absence of vibrato, the intonation is flawless.

III. Sarabande (4’22”)

Superb again! No vibrato, calm, gently percussive articulation (no belly notes!), long, flowing phrases that don’t fall apart, despite the very moderate tempo—serene, peaceful, heavenly! Very subtle, broad dynamic arches / breathing. In the first passes, Isabelle Faust adds one of two extra ornaments—and many more during the repeats. These are often very personal, often unusual, but always fitting extremely well. Exemplary!

IV. Gigue (3’35”)

Astounding and unique! Isabelle Faust is faster than both Augustin Hadelich and Tomás Cotik, technically and musically flawless. The amount of detail that Isabelle Faust packs into this fast performance is amazing: clean execution at a blazing pace, yet the artist finds the time to play out single highlight notes, there are even a few added, perfectly fitting little ornaments. The performance has “breathing”, swaying agogics and dynamics. It even feels “relaxed”, not pushed (even where the artist picks up tempo again).

I called this “unique”—in the sense that Isabelle Faust keeps the focus on the big, swaying phrases, but without neglecting articulation details in the smallest motifs / figures. True, in contrast to some of her top contenders, she was still using a modern Tourte bow here, which probably helped with achieving both agility, as well as keeping articulation and sonority of the semiquaver figures clean. But still…

V. Ciaccona (12’33”)

Already from the timing, Isabelle Faust offerst one of the fastest (shortest) interpretations of the Chaconne. Among the 26 recordings in this review, only Vito Paternoster (cello), Thomas Zehetmair, and Tomás Cotik take less time overall. And fluent it feels, indeed! Fluent, not fast. And unspectacular. In line with the other movements, Isabelle Faust’s technique is flawless, her articulation light, clear, the tone (with virtually no vibrato) natural (not polished to perfection, of course)—but without the roughness of recordings with gut strings and baroque bow.

Isabelle Faust keeps the variations as part of a single, big dramatic arch. In fact, there are no major rests (let along ruptures) between theme and any of the variations in the big D minor part. This leaves the impression of breathlessness—at least in comparison to other interpretation, towards the end of the first part, I almost get the feeling of needing to gasp for air. Definitely, the artist’s focus is on coherence, on presenting the composition as a single architectural monument, rather than a kaleidoscope of characters, colors, moods, emotions. In her view, this Chaconne does not retain any dance character (a strong contrast to Amandine Beyer’s view, for example).

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The centerpiece, and the strongest part of Isabelle Faust’s interpretation (of the Chaconne). Only after the octave d’-d” that concludes the D minor part (bar 133), Isabelle Faust inserts a short rest, then starts a new arch, all pp, and very calm. The impression of calm is not based on a slow pace, but comes from the fact that the artist focuses on the thirds and sixths formed by the two voices, while the small notes in the upper voice (quavers, semiquavers) appear as ornaments (of sorts), mere allusions.

Also here, the variations form a single, seamless stream. Almost, i.e., there are some subtle exceptions, such as the gentle trill on the second beat in bar 140 (closing the preceding variation). And again, there are no sudden changes (let alone ruptures) in character. The triple- and quadruple-stop chords in bars 142ff are gentle arpeggios—far, far from the harsh eruptions in older interpretations. It is here (especially in the segments with semiquavers) where Isabelle Faust’s agogics give some hints of dance swaying. And only very gradually, the artist builds up to a moderate f, up to the climax in bars 197/198. Within the D major part, the second arpeggio appears like a coda.

The closing D minor part is an afterthought, initially all sotto voce, the demisemiquavers like inconspicuous acciaccaturas. Only towards the semiquaver triplets, at last, the interpretation approaches what one might call “dramatic climax”—but even that remains controlled, if not somewhat retained…

What / How Much to Make of the Chaconne?

The comparison with my other, favorite recordings (for this movement Amandine Beyer, Giuliano Carmignola, Gidon Kremer 2001, Viktoria Mullova, and Christian Tetzlaff) leads to the question, how much one ought to read / interpret into this composition—in terms of breadth / bandwidth / variety & depth of expression. Is this absolute music, an artful masterpiece in the sense of Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue”, BWV 1080? Or is it rather, as some suggest, an emotional, moving tribute to Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara Bach (1684 – 1720)? This latter theory is controversial, though. In 2009, Isabelle Faust seemed to lean towards the former view.

I cannot deny that Isabelle Faust’s Chaconne recording didn’t quite fulfill my very (maybe exceedingly) high expectations. And I now cannot resist thinking of an opinion that someone uttered to me in a discussion about Bach’s “Sei Solo“: that Isabelle Faust’s recordings tend to be a bit “kopfig” (colloquial for “heady”, in the sense of “intellectual”, “dry”, maybe “academic”). Back then, I could not quite agree with this. Only now, in this large-scale comparison, and specifically in the Chaconne, I could understand why that commenter arrived at that opinion. Yet, I don’t mean to say that I concur with this to 100%. Certainly not in general, i.e., across all of the “Sei Solo“.

My perception now also may be influenced by the fact that I’m comparing the recordings movement-by-movement (as opposed to Partita-by-Partita)—which may lead to a more “analytical” view. I certainly did not have that same impression when Isabelle Faust performed all of Bach’s “Sei Solo” in one single, long recital, on 2019-06-02. However, that also was 10 years after the recording discussed in this comparison. And: in 2019, she was using a baroque bow.

Total Duration: 28’36”

Rating: 5 / 5 / 5 / 5 / 4 = 4.80

Comment: An excellent, even superb interpretation of this Partita—almost throughout. Sadly, the Chaconne (in my opinion) is not quite up-to-par with the other movements. Based on what other artists are offering, I was expecting more—too much, maybe?


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. Allemande (5’19”)

Very diligent, vibrato-less interpretation, perfect in intonation, with careful dynamics and beautiful, large dynamic arches, observing all of Bach’s articulation (slurs, etc.) and rhythmic details. On the downside, there is a certain tendency towards “belly motifs”, and the “dance swaying” is very moderate at best, the dynamics occasionally a tad “over-refined” (too subtle for a dance movement?).

II. Courante (2’28”)

Virtually the same very fluent tempo (and identical recording year) as Isabelle Faust. Alina Ibragimova’s interpretation doesn’t feel quite as light and natural, though. In comparison, phrasing and dynamics feel more direct, “outspoken”, occasionally almost demonstrative. The tendency to emphasize phrase highlights (particularly poignant due to the absence of vibrato) sometimes renders minor parts of a phrase dim/pale, relatively speaking. It’s still a really excellent interpretation—even though it could be a tad more playful, relaxed…

III. Sarabande (4’20”)

Also here: virtually the same (solemn) tempo as Isabelle Faust, and equally devoid of vibrato, flawless in the intonation. However, that’s where the similarities end. Alina Ibragimova’s phrases tend to be shorter, with a tad more “gaps” between motifs / partial phrases. More importantly, there is a tendency towards “belly accents” and Nachdrücken. It’s not nearly as prominent and obnoxious as Monica Huggett’s, but still! Also here, I don’t understand why the artist foregoes the opportunity to add extra ornaments.

IV. Gigue (3’28”)

In this movement, Alina Ibragimova presents the fastest performance—too fast. The basic pace is close to Isabelle Faust’s, but at the level of semiquaver motifs, Ibragimova doesn’t come close in the amount of detail, differentiation in articulation, Klangrede. Yes, there is the phrasing and differentiated dynamics in the bigger phrases. However, at the level of semiquaver motifs, the execution tends towards sounding mechanical, sometimes a tad noisy (albeit clean). It’s not relaxed, and there seems to be no time for any dance feeling / swaying to emerge. As technical achievement, it is still fascinating, though.

V. Ciaccona (14’11”)

Alina Ibragimova opens with majestic (vibrato-less, of course) portato strokes, each tone with an impulse (percussive articulation), the crotchets and punctuated crotchets with a slight decrescendo.

With the second chord in bar 3, she switches to a slightly softer tone, with more mellow articulation. Oddly, she then tends to apply a slight crescendo to longer notes, which I don’t really understand. In historically informed performances, artists often use a moderate, growing vibrato to let a tone evolve over its duration. This performance, however, tells me that one can not simply use crescendo as substitute for vibrato. At least, the (“belly”) dynamics would have to be less conspicuous than here. Sadly, this odd articulation persists up to around bar 56.

With the variation starting at bar 57, Alina Ibragimova begins accelerating the pace, up to bar 65, i.e., the variation with the demisemiquavers. The latter is the virtuosic culmination, with rapid legato and détaché scales and figures. With the semiquavers in bar 77, the artist gradually reverts to gentle / mellow articulation, and in the segment starting at bar 181, her playing is again infinitely subtle, gentle, introverted, pensive. That persists when the demisemiquavers set in, and into the first part of the arpeggio. Only around bar 101, the music intensifies in waves, while the focus is on the bass line (g/d’ strings).

Towards the return of the initial theme, the tone turns earthy, slightly grainy / rough. In the theme, also the odd crescendo articulation returns…

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The “chorale” theme begins all subtle, intimate, beautiful, like in the distance. As the volume grows and the sound intensifies, the tendency towards crescendo notes returns and persists up to bar 153, when the semiquaver segment sets in—gentle diligent, subtle, pp, lovely…

Overall, to me, the interpretation remains controversial: I very much like the subtlety, the refinement in the soft segments, and the non-vibrato playing, the perfect intonation. Too bad there are also the intense segments where the artist tends to use a rather intrusive crescendo on longer notes.

Total Duration: 29’47”

Rating: 3 / 5 / 4 / 4 / 3 = 3.80

Comment: Alina Ibragimova is radical in her frugal non-vibrato playing—but she has an excellent ear for perfect, pure intonation. She has excellent bow technique and virtuosity. Too bad some of the intense segments, particularly in the Chaconne are hampered by belly dynamics / note crescendo


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. Allemande (6’12”)

Rather horrible, I’m afraid. For one, there is the artist’s nervous, abundant, and omnipresent vibrato—even on the second note, which is meant to be a d’ on the g string, simultaneous to the empty d’ string. Theoretically, this prohibits playing vibrato. Moreover, every single note feel like a crescendo, mostly with Nachdrücken (extra swelling towards the end). This also applies to quavers under a slur, making them sound like portato. And the performance is slow, rhythmically static, devoid of agogics, let alone dance swaying.

II. Courante (2’59”)

Strangely, at virtually identical overall timing as Monica Huggett, this feels much more fluent. In parts, this finds an explanation in the prominent broadening towards endnotes and phrase endings. There’s Khachatryan’s ubiquitous vibrato, of course— can’t say it really hurts much here (except maybe for endnotes, where it is rather poignant), but at the same time, it also doesn’t add any value. Also, there is a very slight tendency towards softening punctuated rhythms (far less that with Monica Huggett, though).

III. Sarabande (4’28”)

Does Sergey Khachatryan only “possess” one vibrato frequency? Here, the nervous and prominent vibrato spoils the whole movement, along with a very noticeable and irritating tendency towards Nachdrücken. Without these two “features”, this might be a very reasonable performance.

IV. Gigue (4’27”)

Very little in terms of Klangrede at the level of motifs, but carefully played, diligent dynamics and phrasing, avoids mechanical pattern, monotony and also rushing. The artist’s best movement so far.

V. Ciaccona (16’26”)

The slowest of the recordings in this comparison. Consequently, Khachatryan plays the Chaconne theme as broad, epic portato (near-legato, I should say), filled with vibrato (no surprise here). He only allows gaps between motifs / phrases, e.g., after the first notes in bars 2 and 3. The 4-stop quaver chords appear as brief, elegant, but hefty upswings. In bar 17, he takes back the volume to an intimate pp, but stays near-legato, and the nervous vibrato of course persists, even intensifies with the subsequent crescendo. In the semiquaver variation (bars 27ff ), every bow, every note appears with a crescendo, actually a very prominent Nachdrücken—to me a prime example to demonstrate why this is an utterly bad habit.

To me, the first “acceptable” variation / segment starts with the demisemiquavers around bar 65, although belly dynamics are soon creeping in, latest with the semiquavers in bar 77. The arpeggio segment (bars 89ff) is fine again, all pp (crescendo from around bar 112ff): the frequent involvement of empty strings and the rapid pattern leave little room for applying vibrato. The latter returns with the melody in the lowest voice around bar 113.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The “chorale” segment is severely hampered not just by the excess vibrato, but equally by the frequent and prominent Nachdrücken. To me, only the semiquaver variation (from bar 153 onwards) is acceptable again: initially gentle, intimate, introverted, even through the crescendo that leads into the polyphonic section starting in bar 177. Here, the nervous vibrato takes over again, and partial remedy only comes with the second arpeggio segment.

Total Duration: 34’32”

Rating: 1 / 3 / 1 / 4 / 2 = 2.20

Comment: I may be biased—I’m allergic against excess vibrato, especially if it is as over-abundant and nervous as here. That’s a pity, as Sergey Khachatryan certainly is a technically gifted artist. I just wonder who instilled this performance style with extreme vibrato into his mind. Not even Jascha Haifetz (1901 – 1987) used to vibrate that strongly.


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. Allemande (4’21”)

Listening to this after Gidon Kremer’s 2001 recording: same timing / overall tempo, but so extremely different! Just as rich in Klangrede / articulation, but far more harmonious! There are contrasts, too (legato vs. staccato), but far less direct or confrontative. Phrase transitions are harmonious, the phrases blooming beautifully, and also the dance swaying is “integrated”, never overly demonstrative. The vibrato—if present at all—is never noticeable as such, the intonation flawless. The simplicity of vibrato-less tone by no means precludes richness in expression, articulation, and phrasing. In short: excellent!

II. Courante (2’17”)

Again one among the fastest performances—and maybe the lightest, and yet most colorful ones (at the limit of what is doable without losing the character of the movement). Amandine Beyer manages to maintain a strong dance feeling (in true 3/4 time!), and at the same time manages to avoid “neglected passages / motifs” and the feeling of excess pushing / rushing. Thanks to the artist’s sense for the long(er) phrases, the movement feels fast, but not out-of-breath. Extreme, but superb!

III. Sarabande (3’48”)

Another top interpretation, very close to, or on a par with my favorites in this movement, Isabelle Faust and Viktoria Mullova. Actually, it is the most radical among the three, especially in the degree in which she exposes the poignant, sometimes even buzzing noises of gut strings. LIke Faust, she adds her own set of (beautiful, very well-fitting, but personal) ornaments (very few even in the first passes).

One could describe Amandine Beyer’s articulation as percussive: often, notes start with a gentle accent, then rapidly or gradually decay towards pp. The gaps between notes are much shorter than Viktoria Mullova’s. However, in the care for articulation and phrasing from tiny motifs up to larger arches, and in the amount of calm and still persistent tension / attention, she is very close to Mullova. Some might find this extreme—to me, it is beautiful, excellent.

IV. Gigue (4’14”)

Beautiful! So much differentiation in articulation, dynamics / phrasing / agogics: nothing is mechanical, nothing is superficial—yet, the artist does not aim for technical perfection: Klangrede, liveliness (dynamics, agogics), momentum with rhythmic elasticity—enthralling.

V. Ciaccona (13’00”)

A dancing Chaconne! What start like a “swelling accent” isn’t! Quite to the contrary! Amandine Beyer combines the punctuated crotchet and the first beat of the second bar to a single, swaying—or rather: erupting—gesture, and the quaver between the two chords merely turns into a connecting link. A similar gesture follows in bars 2/3, 5/6, 6/7, 7/8. These five gestures surround a “relaxing” phrase in bars 3 (2nd beat) up to the first beat of bar 5. With this, the first 8 bars form a single, swaying phrase, culminating in the dominant seventh chord on the first beat of bar 8. The subsequent punctuated quavers (up to bar 24) maintain that swaying—as distinct agogics between the barlines.

I started this comparison with the slowest performances. This is not the fastest (i.e., shortest) one, but (as #21 out of 26) features a fairly fluent pace, which I believe only makes this intense dance swaying possible. This of course continues in the subsequent “semiquaver segment”, not following the waves of the melody line. Other interpretations may put more emphasis on Klangrede in the individual motifs—Amandine Beyer puts the focus on the big(ger) phrases—while maintaining care and diligence on articulation and dynamics in every semiquaver group. And, of course, all with the usual, light articulation, the “light, airy baroque bow”, and an extremely subtle (& selective) vibrato that is hardly ever palpable.

Second Voice, Demisemiquavers…

With the advent of a second voice (bar 57), Amandine Beyer accelerates the pace, and with it the swaying—ever so slightly and gently, such that many listeners won’t even notice. With the demisemiquaver figures, the swaying is no longer so much relaxed, dance-like. It mutated to an emphatic swinging motion that follows the demisemiquaver lines / waves, the intermittent semiquavers (on the g and d’ strings) to “percussive” staccato.

This isn’t virtuosic show, but all about emotion and expression, culminating in the rapid détaché scales. The last of these scales / waves relax again. The portato semiquavers from bar 77 onwards further calm down the excitation. The mellow, gentle semiquaver pairs in bars 81ff contrast to the almost capricious, falling détaché semiquavers on the last beat. There is a flowing, natural transition to the demisemiquaver segment—and the latter could not be any farther from polished, perfected virtuosity! Rather, it’s a bubbling cadenza exploring the pace at which baroque bow and gut strings can just about articulate properly.

The arpeggio is the logical extension to (continuation of) the cadenza, with really beautiful, beautiful sonority of the bass line on the g string. It’s not the “analytical” approach (as in many of the slower, more “controlled” interpretations) that tries laying out the details of the hidden polyphony in the upper voices, but definitely very enthralling.

I also very much like the “post-cadenza” (bars 121 – 125), which harmoniously leads back to the conclusion of the first D minor part with initial theme.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Ah, this ravishing, dark-toned sonority, the naturally and calmly breathing agogics and dynamics in the “chorale” theme—simply wonderful! As polyphony emerges again, Amandine Beyer avoids breaking the melody lines with harsh chords: even though there is a crescendo, she uses a gentle arpeggio bow for the triple- and quadruple-stop chords. This also facilitates a fluent, natural transition to the semiquaver figures. Where Bach writes the latter all-détaché (bars 153ff), the artist highly differentiated (and constantly evolving) articulation. I love that little inverted mordent on the second-to-last note in bar 159!

Interesting: in bars 165 – 168, there are these groups of three double-stop semiquavers where the empty a’ string reinforces the same note on the d’ string. Most artists interpret these a little “drum beats” that stand out from the melody line. Amandine Beyer integrates these notes into the melody line, merely using the a’ string “reinforcement” as extra color. Subsequent instances of doubled notes are different, merely coinciding voices in 2-voice polyphony. Amandine Beyer lets the music culminate in bar 177, with broad quasi-legato strokes.

The subsequent evolution to 3-voice polyphony and later arpeggio does not continue from the preceding build-up, but rather feels like a transfiguration (maybe redemption?). The return to D minor is an instantaneous mood change. However, the artist doesn’t leave it at that, but rather returns to a gentle, earnest, but still a little playful attitude (I’m thinking of the demisemiquaver groups in bars 226 – 228, which sound like acciaccaturas). The D minor coda is another virtuosic build-up (culminating in a short, final cadenza), in which Amandine Beyer of course maintains her rich, but subtle and natural agogics.

Total Duration: 27’41”

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

Comment: In line with pretty much everything that I have heard from this artist so far: simply masterful—consistently among my very top recommendations!


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. Allemande (4’31”)

Careful articulation and phrasing, Klangrede. To me, Thomas Pietsch’s articulation is too détaché, though, the rhythm occasionally too straight. Compared to other pieces in this CD set, the reverberation is not hurting too much here. However, in terms of intonation purity, this recording can’t compete with many others. Also, several of the motifs involving demisemiquavers are a tad superficial.

II. Courante (2’58”)

Accents in general, especially at the beginning of triplet passages tend to be slightly exaggerated. For the relatively slow pace, the triplets feel fairly fluent, while the punctuated feel heavier, probably because the artist wanted to highlight the punctuations. More quibbles: due to (probably) close microphone placement, string noises (“by-noises”) are present to the point where they start hurting (the recording does not represent the listening impression for audiences at a few meters distance). I again noted (very) slight superficialities in articulation and intonation.

III. Sarabande (5’24”)

Carefully formulated / articulated, with well-adapted extra ornaments, very nice, characterful sonority. Unfortunately, the pace is so slow (adapted to the reverberation?) that the ear is stuck in motifs, losing sight of the bigger phrases and melodies. “Dance” to me implies that one always feels where in a phrase / figure one is—here, that’s virtually impossible. The gently swaying, subtle vibrato is fine here, though.

IV. Gigue (4’18”)

The introduction bars (1 & 2, 21) are strangely mellow and vague. In contrast, the articulation in the detached semiquavers feels somewhat superficial, often also rough, with noisy sonority. The p segments are merely allusions. Too much bow noise in general. Not a playful dance, certainly not relaxed by any means.

V. Ciaccona (13’45”)

Apart from the general approach, two things set this interpretation apart from all others, even just within the historically informed “camp”: first, instantly and most obviously, the strong reverberation of the church acoustics, and then, the ornamentation. Already in the opening with its strong, arpeggiated chords, the reverberation is not helpful. To me, it is too much of a “feature” on its own, which competes with (or distracts from) the music.

As for the ornamentation: most artist refrain from adding ornaments to the Chaconne—because it is the “holy grail” of violin music? Thomas Pietsch does add a few extra ornaments early on—unusual not just because few other artists do that, but also in their placement. One early example is a double mordent on the f’ (!) in the D minor chord in the second beat in bar 5. The next ones are the short trills on the third beat in bars 10, 14, and 16: ornaments not for the purpose of highlighting an important note or part of a phrase, but (apparently) merely to satisfy the artist’s personal esthetic preferences. My personal take on this: why not? For one, it doesn’t really affect the melodic or rhythmic structure, and also, given their minimal impact, why should the artist be forbidden to add his personal “signature”?

The variation starting in bar 25 is very clear and faithful in the articulation. A little too clear and didactic, I think: it feels rather dry. And the sonority is often a bit noisy—not just on the e” string, but primarily (I believe) due to the proximity of the microphones. Also, the slurred demisemiquaver passages (bars 65ff) and the subsequent arpeggios contain occasional superficialities in the articulation.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Very simple and straight in tone and articulation (despite the few extra ornaments), occasionally a bit frugal, not avoiding noisy sonority (occasional buzzing strings). Unlike many others, Thomas Pietsch lets the music “do its work”, he does not try indulging in intimacy, in soft, gentle and smooth playing. As already the first part, the arpeggio momentarily is slightly chaotic, lacking clarity and simplicity in the articulation.

Total Duration: 30’55”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 2 / 2 / 3 = 2.60

Comment: A good, historically informed interpretation—with occasional superficialities and some quirks in acoustics and sonority. I hesitate giving a general recommendation to acquire this one, except perhaps if you are looking for a recording that is distinctly different from most other HIP performances.


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. Allemande (4’43”)

Natural tempo, warm, characterful tone, clarity in articulation, beautiful agogic swaying, Klangrede at its best through dynamics / articulation / agogics, and the vibrato is absent or hardly ever noticeable. Simply excellent!

II. Courante (2’39”)

Virtually the same tempo as Rachel Podger—but so much more “speaking” / Klangrede, liveliness in tone and articulation, and the entire piece feels playful, not pushed, and even all the uneasy jumps feel absolutely natural and integrated. So refreshingly lively and entertaining, a dance, indeed!

III. Sarabande (4’18”)

Close to, but not quite at the same level as Isabelle Faust’s performance: almost the same, calm tempo and attitude, but slightly shorter phrases, the occasional (gentle, inconspicuous) vibrato and “swelling accent”—both more in the sense of an ornament / highlight, not “features”. There could (IMO) be more extra ornaments—but it’s totally OK as is (i.e., very few, and well adapted).

IV. Gigue (4’23”)

Excellent in its differentiation in the light articulation, the dynamics, agogics, Klangrede, the “breathing”, the dance swaying, the articulation—and, of course, the beautiful, natural and rich sonority of a period instrument.

V. Ciaccona (15’04”)

The slowest among the newer, historically informed recordings—but a wonderful performance, still. To me, it starts with a little quibble: Christine Busch uses broad portato articulation for the theme, leaving the bow on the strings in the punctuated motifs. This means that after the long downstroke (punctuated crotchet), there is little time for the upstroke on the small note (quaver). The fast upstroke therefore sounds unnaturally loud. That’s a local / initial problem with bars 1, 2, 3, and 6. But also thereafter, there are occasional notes with excess swelling, and I noted a general, subtle tendency to use swelling / belly dynamics on longer notes.

I’m listening to this after Sergey Khachatryan and Joseph Szigeti (the only slower performances here)—and I find this interpretation wonderfully integrated. Where the two performance just mentioned use “hard switches” between articulation styles (e.g., portato vs. staccato), Christine Busch’s transitions are gradual, harmonious—subsequent variations appear to evolve harmoniously from one another, without harsh transitions. Harshness is absent from Christine Busch’s interpretation in general.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Extremely mellow, gentle in the beginning, evolving into a beautiful, broad dynamic arch. After this, the semiquaver variation (bars 153ff) in gentle staccato starts a new arch. In the polyphony starting in bar 177, there is again a certain tendency towards swelling notes, which the second arpeggio segment resolves. Another, minor quibble: a slight excess in highlighting on some of the high peak notes.

Total Duration: 31’07”

Rating: 5 / 5 / 4 / 5 / 4 = 4.60

Comment: A much recommended, historically informed interpretationvery, very close to my top favorite recordings!


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. Pitch: a’ = 440 Hz

Over the past years, I have encountered Sebastian Bohren in several concerts, see my concert reviews. In several of these recitals, the artist has performed the Partita No.2 in D minor, or at least movements thereof, see above. A while ago, the artist’s agent sent me this CD for reviewing. It features the Partitas No.2 and No.3, as well as the Sonata No.3.

After one of his recitals, I asked Sebastian Bohren whether he plans on complementing this CD with the remaining Sonatas (No.1 and No.2, as well as Partita No.1). I learned that this is unlikely to happen in the near future, for several reasons: one is that the 1710 Stradivarius instrument was a temporary loan and is no longer at the artist’s disposition, hence a complementary recording would not offer a proper continuation / completion of the first / partial one. I also sensed that Sebastian Bohren has since moved on in his artistic views. Therefore, I suspect that (being the self-critical perfectionist that he is) he would prefer to start over again, rather than completing this partial recording.

As I already have it, I decided to include that CD in the comparison anyway—just keep in mind that the artist may regard this as preliminary achievement.

I. Allemande (4’28”)

A good, even excellent compromise between dance swaying (agogics) and a calm, regular flow, harmonious phrasing. I would not call this HIP in the strict sense (modern pitch and strings, Tourte bow). The vibrato is rarely conspicuous, often unnoticeable (if present at all). Next to the “true” HIP performances, I sometimes wished for more Klangrede / more agogic “breathing” / swaying, more pronounced phrasing. A tad neutral, the flow occasionally a bit too regular, maybe.

II. Courante (2’37”)

Natural, effortless, careful, inconspicuous in the vibrato, excellent in the flow and the mutual integration of punctuated motifs and triplet chains. I like the swaying phrasing across the triplet chains, and how the artist manages to form a bass line from the isolated notes on the g string—particularly in the second half.

The one thing that listening to Sebastian Bohren’s performance makes me wonder: often, in many of the sequences of triplets, the first note in a bar (group of three triplets) is isolated, the others under a single slur. Here, one often needs to listen carefully to hear that the artist does not put that first note under the slur with the others. That first note (a downstroke, presumably) must take about the same amount of bow as the remaining 8 upstroke notes under the slur. How does the artist manage not to make that first note stand out more? Did Bach perhaps mean to highlight that note as a hidden accent?

In my personal (HIP) view, improving this performance would primarily require a baroque bow and gut strings…

III. Sarabande (3’50”)

I’m listening to this right after Viktoria Mullova’s excellent interpretation: the two share an almost identical timing, and also in their general approach, the two performances have similarities. Bohren is a tad more fluent, not quite as extreme in the amount of reflection and detail at the level of motifs, but he comes very close to Viktoria Mullova’s interpretation—I still give this movement a top rating.

Key differences, quibbles, details: Bohren largely plays without vibrato—he uses it merely in a few instances, to intensify a passage, a note. A little less would be even better. With very rare exceptions, the artist foregoes the opportunity for extra ornaments. In my opinion, he might dare allowing for larger gaps of silence. Finally, there are a few instances, such as the second crotchet (punctuated quaver) in bar 10, or the punctuated quaver at the beginning of bar 17, and maybe one or two other instances, where I regret that the artist did not use the opportunity to build a moment of tension by holding the note a little longer (unnoticeably, maybe also using a tiny amount of over-punctuation). This would have given local climaxes or accents a little more intensity.

IV. Gigue (4’22”)

A natural, and well-balanced interpretation, excellent in articulation, dynamics, phrasing. My remarks are mainly just quibbles—things that most listeners might not even realize. So, here it goes: in the first part, the semiquaver segments in bars 3 – 6 feel a tiny, tiny bit rushed: Also, the descending sequence in bar 7 appears to lose (a tad of) tension—I think that intensifying / building tension would be better here (just my personal opinion). Both these are observations from the first pass only. In the second part, bars 23 / 24 are building, not losing tension—but OK, that’s an ascending sequence.

Finally (really just a quibble): in view of some of the newer HIP performances, some extra amount of Klangrede (small-scale agogics and dynamic differentiation), and maybe a tad more “explicit” large-scale phrasing (e.g., little gaps between big phrases) would have made the performance more relaxed, more playful, more dancing?

V. Ciaccona (13’52”)

The opening of the Chaconne reveals a well-balanced, equilibrated approach: emphatic chords, each note (punctuated crotchets as well as quavers are instantly discharged, but there is no harshness, no abrupt staccato, and also no broad, quasi-legato articulation in these bars—and only scarce instances of (inconspicuous) vibrato. As the punctuations disappear, the artist takes a very natural approach—in the sense of not trying to “make a show”, but to use non-spectacular détaché articulation and very little (if any) vibrato. There is also no exaggeration in agogics and dynamics: the descending “bass” notes are highlighted, but don’t stand out as erratic blocks.

With this, Sebastian Bohren sets himself apart not just from the traditional, “romantic” interpretations, but also from radical approaches, such as Gidon Kremer’s 2001 performance. As other artists, Bohren switches to a very slightly faster pace at bar 57—and as with others, this change seems not entirely convincing / compelling (or necessary even). However, that’s mostly the transition—for the variation with the demisemiquaver figures / scales, the new pace feels perfectly OK. I like how the artist sets apart the notes on the g string in bars 73/74 (staccato and trill). Beautiful dynamics and phrasing in bars 77ff!

One minor quibble: the articulation of the demisemiquavers in bars 85 – 88 is momentarily somewhat “washed out”. On the other hand, the arpeggio is excellent, transparent, revealing the internal / hidden polyphony. After this, the closing of the D minor section makes the initial theme appears slightly softer, moderated: the preparation for the “chorale” segment.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Beautiful, both intimate and intense, with little / selective (inconspicuous) vibrato, unpretentious in expression, dynamics, agogics, articulation. Just in the section with the “triple beats” (bars 165 – 168), the articulation might perhaps be a tad (nuances, really) more poignant? And in the subsequent, chordal section (bars 177ff) the vibrato is occasionally a tad too strong. Unnecessarily, really—though I don’t mean to say that vibrato is forbidden!

I like the subtle agogics in the arpeggio segment that leads over to the closing D minor section. The latter is just as good / excellent as the first D minor section. My conclusion from this interpretation: there are many technical challenges in this movement, mostly probably in the D minor parts—Sebastian Bohren masters them very well. Musically, however, the D major segment may be the bigger challenge?

Total Duration: 29’09”

Rating: 4 / 5 / 5 / 4 / 4 = 4.40

Comment: I know Sebastian Bohren from several encounters, primarily after his concerts / recitals—and I know for sure that he will be reading this review in all detail. Sure, I have been careful about the wording in my remarks. However, I have not tried saving him from criticism. Quite to the contrary: I may have listened to his interpretation with extra diligence, paying attention to details—as I do with all performances that I like. I was anxious about the outcome—and I’m relieved to see that he fared really well in the illustrious circle of my top favorites!


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. Allemande (4’34”)

Very pronounced agogics / dynamics and phrasing—a little too much, such that it sounds too demonstrative, particularly in the “gaps” between the phrases. This also makes the contrast to the longer phrases (e.g., around bar 9) too strong, leading to an apparent discontinuity in the dance swaying. But, of course, a beautiful, warm and characterful tone, careful and detailed articulation.

II. Courante (2’57”)

The punctuated segments stand out in clarity and accuracy. Oddly, in some of the triplets (e.g., right at the beginning), the artist almost “swallows” the second and third quavers. Some of the phrase highlights / accents are somewhat excessive, such as to sound demonstrative. I doubt that the triplet bars / motifs are mere ornaments to (or transitions between) the punctuated segments?

III. Sarabande (4’16”)

A masterpiece, this interpretation! The pace almost as calm as Isabelle Faust’s but otherwise an entirely different approach: so much differentiation, agogic swaying, and Klangrede at the level of motifs. A selective and gentle (natural, inconspicuous) vibrato for highlighting, along subtle, yet highly differentiated dynamics. And finally: exquisitely careful and clean intonation, particularly in double- and triple stop chords/intervals. Just a few, carefully placed (and well-adapted) extra ornaments.

IV. Gigue (4’29”)

Rather strict, rigid (staccato) in the opening bars. The semiquavers are excellent in articulation, phrasing, the vivid agogics / dynamics / Klangrede, the dance feeling, and in how Giuliano Carmignola pays attention to “hidden melodies” (e.g., the lowest notes in sequences of subsequent motifs). I also like the exquisitely highlighted gestures, and the (few) extra ornaments in the repeats. My main quibble is that the pace occasionally feels pushed, for no good reason.

V. Ciaccona (14’05”)

Ah—from the first bars: that’s how I picture the Chaconne in a historically informed performance! Clear percussive / non-legato articulation, little, if any vibrato (“ornament” / highlighting only), swaying agogics (without exaggerations of excesses), characterful tone, and Klangrede in every motif, every phrase. OK, the staccato in bars 57 – 64 (and on the quavers up to bar 71) may not suit everybody’s taste—but that’s just one episode. Also the dynamics feel natural—no excesses (maybe the trochaic dynamics on the pairs if semiquavers in bars 81ff are a bit extreme?).

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Also here: beautifully swaying agogics and dynamics, build-ups, long arches—music with a strong narrative!

Total Duration: 30’20”

Rating: 4 / 3 / 5 / 5 / 5 = 4.40

Comment: I see some shortcomings in the first two movements, but the other three, including the Chaconne, are excellent, and definitely worth a recommendation.


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. Allemande (4’36”)

I’m listening to this after Christine Busch’s and Atilla Aldemir’s recording: also Mikhail Pochekin is very close to the average tempo / timing. With the former (Christine Busch) he shares the lively agogics and dynamics, the dance swaying. The disadvantage of this listening sequence is that it brings out the occasional, metallic character of the modern strings (especially the e” string, of course). The comparison to Aldemir’s recording on the other hand highlights the occasional “excess belly motif”. On the other hand, I could not say that I’m irritated by the occasional, slightly romantic vibrato (predominantly on endnotes and phrase endings), on the other hand: it’s harmonious, neither excessively heavy, nor too nervous.

II. Courante (2’36”)

Well-played, happily / joyfully “bubbling along”, very careful and detailed about articulation and phrasing. A minor quibble: the very slight rushing in the punctuated bars. And the belly dynamics in many or most of the triplet slurs: at the frequency at which they occur, they feel a bit demonstrative, and they sometimes make the performance sound a tad short-breathed.

III. Sarabande (3’43”)

Light in the articulation, but still a fairly romantic interpretation, e.g., in the way in which Mikhail Pochekin uses vibrato (not overly nervous, but fairly intense, still) to highlight peak notes in phrases and motifs. Vibrato aside, the artist uses careful articulation and lively, detailed dynamics to let motifs “speak”, and to shape phrasing arches. In his way, he approaches the HIP ideal of Klangrede. I like the agogics, the swaying flow, the persistent tension / attention to detail.

IV. Gigue (4’23”)

A good (median) tempo, agile, careful and clean articulation. Careful also in the general dynamics. I do have a quibble about the artist’s tendency towards “swelling accents”, which occasionally sound like uncontrolled outbursts (e.g., in the ligature into bar 15, the first note in bar 16, and the last b’ in bar 38). Finally, the second quaver triplets in bars 1 and 2 feel a tad mellow.

V. Ciaccona (13’07”)

An interpretation at a relatively fluid pace (Mikhail Pochekin shares the overall timing with Kristóf Baráti, and with Gidon Kremer’s 1980 recording). Initially resolute and with very little vibrato. The latter only (gently) pulls in around bar 7. The articulation of the punctuated quavers is short, light, the motifs clearly separated. In bars 33ff, the artist aims for contrast between the “bass” notes on the g string and the quaver figures in the “upper voice”. There are again some “swelling accents / notes”—but these remain largely inconspicuous.

There are no dramatic agogic rhythmic fluctuations (such as swaying), but Mikhail Pochekin conspicuously “stretches” semiquavers that he wants to highlight, such as those on the first and second beats in bar 45, or the seventh note in bar 46). In bars 49ff, the artist clearly separates the motifs with slurs from those without, creating a kind of “internal dialog”. As with others (Arthur Grumiaux, Atilla Aldemir, Sebastian Bohren), bar 57 switches to a noticeably faster tempo, thereafter the pace gradually tends to accelerate further—but these effects are subtle, not excessive. It’s just too bad that the vibrato is fairly ubiquitous…

In bars 77 – 80, the interpretation calms down again, and the semiquaver pairs in bars 81ff are calm, very subtle, cautious (with occasional “swelling accents”, though). At the arpeggio we are back to the fluid pace, and again, the artist uses occasional, perceptible “note stretching” for highlighting key notes.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

After a noticeable pause, the D major part opens—soft, gentle. More than others, Mikhail Pochekin puts a little emphasis on the first note on (almost) every motif. On the other hand, in the semiquaver segment, the groups of three double-stop a’ notes (bars 165 – 168) are more integrated into the flow than in other recordings. This results in a more continuous build-up towards the climax (first note in bar 177). The subsequent polyphony is fluent, not so much aiming for greatness / glory. The chordal segment (bars 185ff) initially builds up, but from bar 193 on, it appears to transcend into sublime heights, finally to intensify again towards the second arpeggio segment.

In the demisemiquaver cadenza, finally, Mikhail Pochekin retains the structure in the notation, particularly by showing the last 8 notes as a group. A last quibble: the final note features a d’ on the g string that is reinforced with the empty d’ string. Strictly speaking, this prohibits using vibrato.

Total Duration: 28’26”

Rating: 4 / 4 / 4 / 3 / 3 = 3.60

Comment: I did not expect a radical HIP-type performance—though Mikhail Pochekin clearly has picked up “HIP traits” in his interpretation. He is offering a sound / solid interpretation, his articulation / bow technique, as well as intonation are exceptionally firm and clean. And I like the artist’s characterful tone. Polished, sterile perfection is not the goal here!


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

Atilla Aldemir, 2019 (Viola, G minor)

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. Allemande (4’42”)

Tempo and timing are virtually identical to Christine Busch’s, and also the general philosophy is quite similar. Yet, Aldmir doesn’t quite reach Christine Busch’s, like: articulation, phrasing and dynamics are not quite as “speaking” (Klangrede), the flow is more even, often a tad too regular. Sure, one needs to take into account that playing this violin piece on a viola is substantially more challenging for the left hand. That doesn’t cause any “defects” / mishaps—yet, the recording (to me) leaves a subtle sensation of “more difficult”. And it seems to me that this movement doesn’t let the viola play out it’s strengths in sonority & “singing”.

II. Courante (3’06”)

With the exception of Joseph Szigeti’s interpretation (which really falls out of the norm here), this is the slowest performance. It is far better than Szigeti’s, e.g., the transitions from triplets to punctuated rhythm are far more natural. However, Aldemir’s performance still feels a tad heavy. Yes, this Courante is bulky and tricky to perform (see also above)—in general. The viola, however, adds some extra challenges, particularly for the left hand. This may have influenced the artist’s tempo choice. The very moderate tempo contributes to the impression of “heavy”, “somewhat bulky”.

While a slower pace may not be bad per se, here, it conflicts with the 3/4 time signature and the character of a Courante as relatively fluent / fast dance. Aldemir’s performance feels like a piece in 9/8 time—the 3/4 rather feels like an Andante.

III. Sarabande (3’40”)

Beautiful tone / playing, virtually devoid of vibrato. Too bad the artist doesn’t add one or the other extra ornament. Also, some extra flexibility in shaping motifs (such as chains of semiquavers) would have enhanced the interpretation. In general, the articulation is light, but the text reading a little too literal, too “exact”, lacking agogic freedom. This may contribute to the occasional lack of tension in phrasing / bigger arches (building up extra tension around climaxes, allowing for more relaxation at the end of a phrase).

IV. Gigue (4’51”)

For a Gigue in 12/8 time, this is a tad slow, and the “heavier” sound of the viola makes it even harder to create the impression of agility, of joyfulness. Atilla Aldemir articulates carefully, applies differentiated dynamics, and his phrasing implies half-bar units: apart from the busy semiquavers, one doesn’t get the feeling of a Gigue dance. The moderate tempo (the slowest here, in fact) contributes to making the extended sequences of détaché semiquavers (close to staccato in this interpretation) feel a bit monotonous—luckily, there are also slurred motifs.

V. Ciaccona (14’26”)

Light articulation compensates the heavier sound of the viola. At the same time, the character of the instrument is an excellent fit to the emphatic, arpeggiated chords in the opening of the piece. Effortlessly, it evokes the majestic, “big” character of the Chaconne opening. Excellent playing, harmonious rhythmic / agogic swaying, careful, detailed articulation (love the isolated, descending staccato scale in bar 43!), Klangrede. Atilla Aldemir is using virtually no vibrato. This opens a direct view onto Bach’s music, without the distraction of constant vibrations.

Quibbles: I don’t understand why the artist suddenly switches to a faster pace in bar 57—this doesn’t make sense to me. I’m merely objecting to the tempo change, not the chosen pace (before or after) as such.

The (natural, not overly polished) sautillé in the big arpeggio segment (bars 89ff) is an excellent idea—it makes the section sound effortless, light.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The opening of the “chorale” segment is infinitely gentle, intimate, subtle—very touching and beautiful! And in the subsequent variations, Atilla Aldemir (or rather: Bach’s music) is speaking through every single motif, even as the technical challenges for the viola (and in general) grow, towards the second arpeggio segment. The latter appears to relieve the technical “pressure” be breaking the polyphony into light, near-sautillé arpeggios. A transfiguration of sorts, which Bach “aborts” with the sudden / surprising modulation back to D minor.

Total Duration: 30’45”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 3 / 3 / 4 = 3.20

Comment: Undeniably, Bach wrote his “Sei Solo” specifically for the violin. Substituting that for the viola adds extra technical challenges, and the heavier, less agile character of the instrument may seem to make the viola non-ideal for this music, at least for some of the movements. On the other hand, there are definitely movements which profit from the sonority of the viola. In the case of the Chaconne (and in Atilla Aldemir’s interpretation), I even feel that the viola has definitive advantages over the violin—an very valuable and rewarding experience!


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. Allemande (4’24”)

Interesting—or rather strange? The opening bars are way broader than the overall timing (clearly shorter than average) might suggest (a tad slower than Isabelle Faust’s performance even), very explicit, with emphasis on (almost) every note. That changes after a while, when the pace turns more into agreement with the timing. And Tomás Cotik never returns to that initial tempo, ever (i.e., also for the beginning of the first repeat). In fact, constant, gradual acceleration appears to govern the performance of that Allemande, and at the end, it assume the pace of some of the fastest performances. Overall, this leaves a somewhat ambiguous impression, a sense of incoherence, maybe.

The other quibble that I have is about agogics: Tomás Cotik clearly is aware of the need for dance swaying in this movement. However, as such, it is a bit too demonstrative. And (together with the overall acceleration) it feels rather short-breathed, as the artist appears to “sway” in (almost) every motif, rather than across bars or phrases.

II. Courante (2’19”)

Definitely one of the fast performances, even with a slight tendency to accelerate up to the end of a part. The articulation is detailed, accurate—many of the phrases feel restless, pushed, though, such that there is little, if any room for relaxed (“free”) dance swaying. As a listener, this makes me feel out of breath in the end.

III. Sarabande (3’25”)

Calm, despite the relatively fluent tempo. Unfortunately, the artist doesn’t allow substantial relaxing at the end of a phrase, and together with a relatively regular, constant flow, this makes the interpretation sound a tad restless, occasionally impatient. Long phrases are OK, but where’s the dance swaying? Well, it does seem to be present initially, at the level of motifs, but later, as a listener, it often gets lost in longer phrases. Actually, what irritates me more is the tendency to shape (too) many notes (certainly most crotchets and bigger note values) into a crescendo. After a while, this feels tiring.

IV. Gigue (3’39”)

Tomás Cotik is a tad faster than Augustin Hadelich, and technically impressive—however, he doesn’t come close to the latter. I’m not complaining about “swallowed notes” or the like: as far as I can judge at the given (fast) pace, the execution of the semiquavers appears clean. Still, the constant push forward, towards “staying busy” causes the listener to focus just on the one thing: tempo. Yes, one might call it dance swaying (with minimal agogics), yet, many of the motifs appear merely to be “run over”, with little conscious shaping, let alone agogics. A sporting success—didn’t Bach expect a little more?

V. Ciaccona (10’55”)

Why, oh, why so fast? Actually, the fast pace (clearly the fastest overall in this comparison) isn’t the primary problem: the artist isn’t just relentlessly “running or pushing through” the Ciaccona. Rather, it’s the lack (or the wrong kind) of differentiation, and often a certain lack of care and detail. For example: already in the initial theme, the quavers in the punctuations are coarse, loud (often louder than the punctuated notes). Also some of the arpeggiated chords are standing out as excessive / unnecessary, “bulky” accents. These occasionally also tend to disrupt the rhythmic flow.

Some of the subsequent variations (bars 9ff) are a strange, almost arbitrary mix of staccato, portato, and quasi-legato. Tomás Cotik does differentiate in the dynamics, but often with exaggeration, or unpredictably. From the semiquaver variation in bars 37ff, arbitrariness also extends into the pace / rubato. On top of that, there are instances of excessive agogics. And as we move onto the demisemiquavers (bars 65 – 76), or later into the arpeggio, the performance really is just fast, lacking “proper”, “speaking” agogics. And I wish there was at least some Klangrede

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

The beginning of the “chorale” theme is excessively sweet (too much vibrato, mellow articulation). Starting in bar 141, the articulation of the melody line experiences random changes in articulation: some punctuated notes are short, others are extended to the point where they integrate (“swallow” the small note (quaver) in a legato. And with the semiquavers, the arbitrary tempo alterations return. I’m not doubting the artist’s technical prowess—but this Chaconne definitely sounds superficial, cursory to me. Where is the warmth, the depth of this piece? A pity.

Total Duration: 24’42”

Rating: 3 / 3 / 2 / 4 / 2 = 2.80

Comment: My judgement of this interpretation / performance is very uneven. The Gigue may be good, the first two movements acceptable / reasonable, but the Sarabande suffers from some oddities, and the Chaconne definitely falls off.


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. Allemande (3’57”)

A very fluent pace—but that does not stop the artist from applying swaying agogics, clear, detailed and careful articulation and dynamics / phrasing. Yes, Hadelich uses a baroque bow, which helps with the Klangrede, the baroque. At the same time, the violin is modernized, the strings are modern, too—so, the sonority is modern, full, rounded, devoid of the roughness of gut strings, maybe a little poignant at times on the e” string. The vibrato is rarely noticeable. I also noted that Augustin Hadelich is one of very few artists adding (very few, inconspicuous and well-integrated) extra ornaments to repeats in this movement. Well done!

II. Courante (2’18”)

One of the fastest performances, and indeed a bit on the fast side, leaving limited room for dance feeling. However, Augustin Hadelich manages to avoid the sensation of “pushing” / rush. Technically masterful, detailed and careful in articulation (the baroque bow certainly helped in the lightness of the articulation), dynamics and phrasing, it even includes a few extra ornaments. Still, I’d personally prefer a slightly more playful interpretation.

III. Sarabande (4’38”)

Calm, solemn flow, mellow arpeggios, intimate, gentle lines, very subtle dynamics, excellent agogics, and a marvelous sense for long phrases, which pick up momentum at the initial accent, then calmly let that disperse towards the end of the phrase. Augustin Hadelich uses extra ornaments sparingly, and in the repeats only. My one reservation is that the nearly ubiquitous and occasionally somewhat prominent vibrato doesn’t add value, rather to the contrary.

IV. Gigue (3’42”)

No, there isn’t much “relaxed dance swaying”. But still, this performance undeniably is an absolute masterpiece, technically and musically. Among the fastest of all, but without a trace of rushing, and clean in the execution (dynamics, articulation, phrasing) down to the smallest note. One might call it “polished to near-perfection”—but still, I sense joy, pleasure, playfulness, fun, even wit, e.g., in those capricious staccato quavers in bar 5. Then, there’s the subtle p segment, or the big phrases culminating in a blooming climax (e.g., in bars 29/30). Every phrase is obviously the result of considerate shaping. And yet, the interpretation never feels intellectual of “heady”. Amazing.

V. Ciaccona (14’12”)

It feels like the Chaconne is a big playground for (viable) individual solutions! Augustin Hadelich plays the chords in the theme with a “rounded”, distinct accent, with verve. The bottom notes are short (can’t keep the bow on more than two strings), but the punctuated crotchets (bars 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 etc.) are long, up to the quavers (portato) short(er). The non-legato playing in the remainder of the theme most likely goes along with the use of a baroque bow. That said, the sonority clearly also speaks of the use of metal(-clad) rather than gut strings. This also applies to the variations starting in bar 17, now all subtle, soft, intimate, pp, though still with well-defined, clear articulation.

Like Atilla Aldemir, the artist changes to a more fluent pace (and a more resolute articulation) at bar 57—though here, the tempo transition is more harmonious, more logical. The performance in the variation with the demisemiquavers (bars 65ff) is very clean, clear, virtuosic (reminiscence of a modern bow?)—but actually, it deserves more agogics, more Klangrede. Also the following segment up to the arpeggio feels a little too perfect, too clean (a little aseptic), despite all the subtlety, the attention to detail, and the highly refined dynamics. Beautiful build-up in the arpeggio segment. Perfect again, too perfect, maybe.

D major “Chorale” Segment, D minor Closure

Hadelich inserts a little pause before starting the “chorale” part—slower, highly refined, subtle, gentle: too sotto voce initially? Maybe it is also too perfect? The performance (and the build-up, up to the climax prior to the return to D minor) is indeed perfect in articulation, sonority, dynamics. And again, I miss some more agogics, some “talking through the music”. I can’t exactly put my finger on other reasons why other performances touch me more than this one.

Interestingly, the artist inserts another little pause before entering the D minor part—and that (again) is extremely introverted, subtle, sotto voce, intimate (even the arpeggi). Only around bar 225, Augustin Hadelich gradually starts adding volume, intensity—and pace. After the climax (the demisemiquaver cadenza scales), he returns to the initial theme, which feels like a 1:1 replica of the opening bars (except for the closing bars and the “infinite” diminuendo on the last note).

Total Duration: 28’46”

Rating: 4 / 4 / 4 / 5 / 4 = 4.20

Comment: Technically, Augustin Hadelich presents an astounding performance—too perfect at times, I believe. Maybe the artist should switch to gut strings and allow for more imperfections—and more Klangrede?


Conclusions

Frankly, the task of comparing 26 recordings of Bach’s Partita No.2 felt rather scary. The sheer number of recordings makes me fear that I might run out of words & comments. Is there still something unique, specific, and meaningful to say for all these notable artists & their performances / interpretations? And, of course, there is the huge amount of work involved in listening to 12.5 hours of music in its entirety—mostly twice, but also 3 – 5 times for many tracks. Finally, there’s the famous Chaconne, a complex world in itself, and almost as big as the Sonata No.1 alone.

In looking back at the above review, I’m satisfied and happy to see that the outcome largely is in line with the earlier reviews. The comments, the results / ratings speak for themselves, I hope. And I did indeed not run out of words, as initially feared…


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


Acknowledgements

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. At the time of this writing, I have no idea how long the completion of this set of review postings will take (months, if not years). So, please be patient!



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