COMPOSERS: JS Bach
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Sonatas and partitas for solo violin, BWV 1001-1006
PERFORMER: Midori (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4123
Bach’s six solos for violin are, both technically and expressively, a summit of the repertoire whose multiple challenges few if any violinist can resist. Yehudi Menuhin was one of the first to record them in the 1930s, since when virtuosos such as Arthur Grumiaux, Nathan Milstein and more recently Viktoria Mullova and Gil Shaham have demonstrated the infinite expressive nuances which enliven these pieces, divided into three each of sonatas and partitas.
The Japanese violinist Midori offers a conservative performance avoiding anything which would be construed as controversial. Her tempos are moderate, her vibrato well controlled and her intonation secure in all but a few instances of multiple stopping. I do not know in which order Midori recorded the works but the opening Adagio and Fugue of the G minor Sonata are less comfortable than the remainder of her recital. The Adagio is bland and the Fugue bowed in that stabbing, aggressive manner which too often does this music a disservice. Thereafter matters improve. Midori’s bowing is more relaxed as we quickly discover in the Fugue of the A minor Sonata. Here and elsewhere, though I sometimes found her articulation too laid back for effective phrase definition. I acknowledge, however, that this is more personal taste than criticism.
While there is a wealth of dynamic contrast in this playing and no lack of sensibility, I miss the vitality and sparkle that is present in Gil Shaham’s recording of these pieces. He seems to reach Bach’s poetry with greater immediacy. In summary, an uneven performance in which the D minor Partita, with its great Chaconne, and the C major Sonata stand out for the lightly articulated and playful character of their dance movements, and concluding Allegro assai, respectively.