JS Bach Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas
Ning Feng (violin)
Channel Classics CCS 39018 147:20 mins (2 discs)
Any violinist taking Bach’s solo Sonatas and Partitas into the studio immediately invites comparison with a gamut of pedigree performances, historically informed or otherwise. Flawless technique, though a necessary start, is not enough. Here is music pared back to essentials, then lovingly amplified with allusive hidden voices and fearsome double stopping, affording the performer nowhere to hide.
Ning Feng’s technique certainly needs no hiding places, and the sound recording is agreeably warm, clear and intimate; but it’s something of a mixed bag. With restrained vibrato he nonetheless plants his flag in the Romantic camp, often playing fast and loose with Bach’s carefully notated slurs, cultivating a rhythmic freedom that can yield momentary confusion, and resolutely resisting the invitation to embellish or vary repeats. Dance movements don’t always locate the DNA lurking beneath Bach’s stylisations, and playfulness is sometimes undervalued. That said, the mighty D minor Ciaccona has great poise and probing gravitas, the E major Preludio scintillates, and if at times the G minor Fuga advances in halting soundbites, its cousins in A minor and C major are much more unwavering. Feng repays close listening, but on modern instruments, Ibragimova, Tetzlaff and Faust dig deeper – while the period violin of Podger is in a class of its own.