Three Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin – in G minor, BWV1001; in A minor, BWV1003; in C, BWV1005
Three Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin – in B minor, BWV1002; in D minor, BWV1004; in E, BWV1006
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Recorded 18-19 March 2007 & 20-22 October 2008 in Bolzano, Italy
Reviewed by: Tully Potter
Reviewed: June 2009
CD No: ONYX 4040 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 12 minutes
Bach’s works for unaccompanied violin, generally considered the finest compositions for the instrument, have been lucky in recent years. Apart from several excellent recordings on baroque violins with all the doctrinaire apparatus of the ‘period’-instrument players, we have had the superb set by Richard Tognetti. And now Viktoria Mullova, while using a 1750 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini baroque fiddle and a baroque bow by Walter Barbiero, has produced a set that I feel sure will please most connoisseurs. Except, that is, those who have learnt ‘perfect pitch’ at A=440. Mullova plays at A=415.
To start with, she makes a beautiful sound, with hardly a scratch. Yet she does not hold back at the more strenuous moments. I associate her mainly with the Partitas and they are all three very fine. In the B minor, the ‘Allemande’ finds the perfect poise between legato and articulation, dancing nicely. This is the Partita with the Doubles, or variations, for each dance, and Mullova keeps the relationship between each one and its Double. The ‘Corrente’ is very nice, with the Presto Double really zippy and committed. The ‘Sarabande’ and its Double are both quite haunting. The ‘Bourrée’ is very pleasant without any hint of affectation, likewise its Double.
In the D minor Partita some of the articulation strikes me as a little dainty. The dances lead up well to the ‘Chaconne’ but that great movement rather lacks the monumental character it should have. But then I am old-fashioned. The E major Partita features some very pleasing decorations, of the kind that will bear repeated listening. The famous ‘Prelude’ goes at quite a brisk tempo but is full of light and shade.
Mullova takes a similar attitude to each of the three Sonatas – in each we have a prelude and fugue, a slow movement and a finale. She does not hang about in the fugues, which are very cleanly delivered without feeling rushed. If you know Adolf Busch’s recording of the C major, you may feel that Mullova does not get so much out of the Largo; but she is very touching in the Andante of the A minor – it obviously means something special to her, as she dedicates the movement to her daughter Katia. And then the little scallops (as I think of them) are delightfully done in the finale. The trills in the opening Grave of the A minor are also excellent. The G minor, the first thing we hear in the set, is pretty good all the way through.
I find plenty of chiaroscuro in Mullova’s playing, even though she makes quite a lean sound. It almost goes without saying that her intonation is superb.
The presentation looks attractive but there is no analytical booklet note, a grave lack with this music. The personal essay by Mullova is very nice to have – she learnt a lot about baroque style from the bassoonist Marco Postinghel, who has acted as her producer here. She is very down on the Bach style she learnt in Russia and I must agree that there is not a great tradition of Bach violin-playing there; but I have long found the Bach performances of David Oistrakh, Sitkovetsky (senior), Kogan, Kremer, Grindenko, Kagan and others very satisfying in their way. It is musicality that matters, and that is where Mullova herself scores in the long run.