Bach: Violin Partitas

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Violin Partitas: No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004; No. 3 in E, BWV 1006; Violin Sonata No. 3 in C, BWV 1005
PERFORMER: Isabelle Faust (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902059

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Bach’s music for unaccompanied violin presents one of the greatest technical and emotional challenges facing virtuoso violinists, few of whom resist tackling at least one of these intellectually absorbing pieces.

Isabelle Faust plays three of these works on a 1704 Stradivarius roughly contemporaneous with Bach’s beautiful autograph of all six works. Faust’s account of the music is gently voiced and eloquently inflected. Her lightly articulated bowing, which eschews anything in the nature of aggressive declamation, is a constant pleasure.

This quality is present, too, in competing versions by Julia Fischer (Pentatone) and Viktoria Mullova (Onyx), whereas Gidon Kremer (ECM) plays more forcefully into the string and is less rhythmically supple. 

Occasionally I feel that Faust adopts slightly too brisk tempos; for instance, in the Giga of the D minor Partita. She also takes the celebrated Ciaccona from the same Partita faster than most, if not all, rival versions that come to mind, so losing something of its nobility.

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Faust, though, is at heart a poetic player with an irresistibly warm sound, a tightly controlled vibrato and an athletic technique. The seamless sostenuto of the Adagio of the C major Sonata and the transparent polyphonic dialogue of its towering Fuga are among the many rewarding features of Faust’s winning approach to Bach’s music. Nicholas Anderson