WORKS: Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin
PERFORMER: Benedict Cruft (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: TON-001 (available from www.tononirecords.com)
Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin were not the first of their kind, but rather the high water mark of a tradition that had existed in Germany since the middle of the 17th century. Today, these virtuoso pieces still represent the violinist’s ultimate technical and interpretative challenge. The sonatas follow the ostensibly serious Italian ‘da chiesa’ pattern, while the partitas, as their name implies, are dance suites. But lines of demarcation are often blurred, rhythmic and ornamental features of one type frequently penetrating the other. Key signatures provide a sharper distinction, the partita movements remaining in the established key, those of the sonatas employing two, one for the outer movements and another for the centrally placed slow movement.
Benedict Cruft plays an instrument contemporaneous with Bach’s masterpieces, though tuned at today’s pitch. His approach is sympathetic and his bowing free from intrusive chordal brutality. Compared with his competitors, such as Nathan Milstein, Cruft favours markedly slower tempi in all movement types. Sometimes, especially in the dances, this is illuminating, but at others, and notably in the sonata fugues, the effect too often seems laboured and prosaic, lacking the requisite virtuosity to realise the music with fluent discourse. But this is nevertheless thoughtful playing where disappointments are outnumbered by the pleasures of a disciplined and musicianly overview. Nicholas Anderson