Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-1006
Thomas Zehetmair (baroque violin)
ECM 481 8558 120:18 mins (2 discs)
Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin – not to be confused with the six accompanied violin sonatas written at more or less the same time – were composed in Cöthen in 1720. Although they were among the first of Bach’s works to be published in the 19th century, they didn’t develop much traction in the repertoire before Joachim brought them into the limelight; now, they are central to all violinists’ profiles.
Thomas Zehetmair is a performer of enviable versatility. His first recording of these works was on a modern violin. Here, in an attempt to get closer to Bach’s soundworld, he plays a South Tyrolean instrument from 1685 in the partitas and a mid-18th-century violin by Eberle in the sonatas and his accompanying note indicates deep engagement with the internal structure and symmetry of these six works.
These are highly personal interpretations, and many will warm to them. In general, the Partitas, with their succession of dances seem to benefit most from Zehetmair’s often impulsive approach. The Double of the Corrente of the first Partita and the exhilarating Preludio to the E major Partita are dazzling and the best examples of Zehetmair’s exciting volatility. On the other hand, the Second Partita’s great Chaconne manages to be at times captivating, at others uninvolving.
The resonant acoustic favours the bigger gestures but often compromises some of the ornamental detail. For those wanting these works on the modern violin, James Ehnes offers more consistent rewards (Analekta) as does Rachel Podger on the Baroque violin (Channel Classics).