Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV1001-1006:
Sonata in G minor, BWV1001
Partita in B minor, BWV1002
Sonata in A minor, BWV1003
Partita in D minor, BWV1004
Sonata in C, BWV1005
Partita in E, BWV1006
Julia Fischer (violin)
Recorded in December 2004 in Doopsgezinde Singelkirk, Amsterdam
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: June 2005
CD No: PENTATONE CLASSICS
[2 Hybrid CDs/SACDs]
Duration: 2 hours 29 minutes
As anyone who has heard Julia Fischer’s previous PentaTone release, of Russian concertos, or has heard her live will know, this young German violinist is among the finest of the current generation.
To record Bach’s solo violin music at the age of 21 might be thought premature, a point Fischer addresses in her booklet note. Her confidence is not misplaced. Yehudi Menuhin did so memorably at a similar age, and Fischer was clearly ready, too. Not only is she fully at the top of her game technically but, more importantly, there is a clear sense that these works form part of her daily musical diet – in much the same way that the cello suites did for Pablo Casals.
Having now played these recordings many times and with ever-increasing pleasure, it seems important to give the potential purchaser an impression of what are the significant features which make the set so special. First, the sound is quite excellent in the sympathetic acoustic of Amsterdam’s baroque Doopsgezinde Singelkirk – a matter of no small importance when contemplating two-and-a-half hours of unaccompanied violin music. Then, the consistently beautiful tone Fischer draws from her 1750 Guadagnini is similarly grateful on the ear; and simply as pure sound her rendering of the concluding Allegro of the A minor Sonata offers some of the most resonantly spectacular solo violin-playing one has any right to hear. Its sheer physical impact is consistently astonishing.
However, what makes this set one to place alongside Arthur Grumiaux and Menuhin’s first versions is Fischer’s musical penetration. Despite her youth, her playing has the patience and spiritual maturity of one who has lived much longer. Like Botticelli’s painting “Primavera”, great Bach playing seems to stand outside its time, defying momentary performing trends and speaking with a directness and immediacy that goes beyond artistic fashion. That is not to say that there are not passages, particularly in the sonatas, when a baroque bow would achieve with greater ease – the ‘accompanimental’ lines in the Andante of the A minor Sonata comes to mind – but in the fugues of both this and the C major sonatas, Fischer builds the structures with extraordinary restraint and patience.
The varied dance movements of the partitas, too, are given the most subtle characterisation, for example the effortless brilliance and variety of her bowing in the ‘Double (Presto)’ from the B minor Partita followed immediately by an unbroken concentration of line in the ‘Sarabande’.
Many recordings are played once or at most twice, then consigned to the shelves. The best possible recommendation for this set is that after something like ten auditions one knows that the discs will still be played again. A bonus DVD is included in the form of a session report.