Bach Sonatas & Partitas

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Bach Sonatas & Partitas
WORKS: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2, BWV 1001 & 1003; partita No. 1, BWV 1002
PERFORMER: Isabelle Faust (violin)


This completes Isabelle Faust’s recording of Bach’s ‘Six Solos’, following her disc of the Partitas and Sonata BWV1004-6 two years ago (reviewed May 2010). In some of the most challenging violin music ever written, she displays masterly technique. Peter Wollny’s notes refer to Bach’s ‘self-imposed chains’. Bach is never more inventive than when imposing extreme constraints on himself: the incomparable A minor fugue (in BWV 1003) draws four parts from a single violin, woven into dense counterpoint, displaying Bach’s boundless ingenuity as the subject and chromatic countersubject twist and turn, both right-way up and upside down. Despite some daring tempos, Faust retains a totally secure pulse through all the technical contortions. She places admirable faith in Bach’s fair copy of the score: if the first Sonata is familiar to you, listen out for an uplifting E natural in the third bar of the first Sonata, rather than the wrongly ‘corrected’ E flat of most performances. She is alluringly sensitive in gentler movements: in the following Andante, the melody sings above quietly restrained accompanying quavers, two distinct dynamic levels within each bow-stroke.

The Partita’s dance movements retain a strong sense of their functional origins, in particular the gentle Sarabande before the unstoppably energetic Borea (Bourrée). The opening movements of the Sonatas are, aptly, more free, in the fantasticus style familiar to Bach the organist. Faust plays on the famous ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Stradivarius of 1704. At modern (high) pitch it sounds assertively bright and, recorded quite close, I needed to tweak down the volume control.


George Pratt