LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin, BWV 1001-6
PERFORMER: Sigiswald Kuijken (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77527 2
Bach’s six solos for unaccompanied violin are divided into three each of sonatas and partitas. The sonatas follow the Italian ‘da chiesa’ pattern, ostensibly avoiding dance movements, while the partitas are dance suites. Lines of demarcation are, however, sometimes blurred, with rhythmic and ornamental features of one type often penetrating the other. Sigiswald Kuijken is one of the pioneers of the period instrument/early music renaissance and some readers, perhaps, will recall the excellent concerts and recordings made by the Brussels-based Alarius Ensemble, of which he was a member, during the mid- to late Sixties and early Seventies. Since then he has formed, with Gustav Leonhardt, La Petite Bande, as well as forging close links with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and establishing his own Kuijken String Quartet.
This is Kuijken’s second complete recording of Bach’s unaccompanied violin music and it is much the more impressive of the two. I have not always enjoyed the individual timbre of his playing, but here his characteristic clarity and intellectual rigour is complemented by a greater warmth of tone. The great D minor Chaconne comes over nobly and with a firmly built architectural foundation. No aggressive, exaggerated gestures here, but instead a musical integrity that takes Bach’s dazzling kaleidoscope of technical devices and harmonic diversity comfortably in its stride. But, after a promising start, I did find the colossal Fuga of the C major Sonata a shade dry and austere. Rachel Podger’s warmer tone and more supple responses afford greater pleasure here. The choice rests between her set (Channel Classics) and Kuijken’s new release. My preference lies, just, with Kuijken, though if you are happy to settle for half of Bach’s set then Hilary Hahn (Sony) offers fine performances, too. Nicholas Anderson