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JS Bach: Sonatas and Partitas

Augustin Hadelich (violin) (Warner Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

JS Bach
Solo Sonatas and Partitas
Augustin Hadelich (violin)
Warner Classics 9029504874   125:48 mins (2 discs)

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Bach’s six sonatas and partitas (three of each) are the cornerstone of the solo violin repertoire. When they were composed in Cöthen in 1720, Bach was enjoying a period of rich artistic fulfilment resulting in some of his finest instrumental music. But there was also personal suffering with the death of his first wife, Maria Barbara.

While it is tempting to see sublimations of both grief and happiness in these endlessly fascinating works, they are also astonishing for their stylistic range. Bach’s command of the Italian style is clear in the sonatas, while French elegance is celebrated in the partitas.

Augustin Hadelich, as outlined in his engaging accompanying notes, is keen to avoid portentous gesture in dealing with Bach’s fearsome technical demands. Using a Baroque bow, his inward approach results in superb intimacy in the slow movements of the sonatas, notwithstanding the resonant recorded sound. His use of ornamentation is integrated rather than imposed, and there is a fluidity in the fugal movements of the sonatas in which the chordal writing passes very naturally without seeming like overly emphatic punctuation.

Hadelich mentions flamboyance in his notes as being a likely part of a Baroque performer’s armoury, and just occasionally this leads to slight inconsistencies of tempo, as in the exultant prelude of the E major Partita. But this is balanced by real eloquence in the slower dance movements of the partitas and the famous Chaconne. Some might prefer a ‘bigger Bach’ approach, but these beautifully focused performances have a distinct appeal.

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Jan Smaczny