COMPOSERS: Johann Sebastien Bach
ALBUM TITLE: Bach: Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo
WORKS: Solo violin sonatas and partitas
PERFORMER: Pavel Šporcl (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: Supraphon SU 4186-2
Numerous violinists have seen Bach’s sonatas and partitas as a rite of passage in their recording careers. Of the 30 plus alternatives on my shelves, my benchmark is Rachel Podger, playing a Baroque violin in 1999 (Channel Classics). But some have become classics regardless of evolving tastes and styles in Baroque performance. Arthur Grumiaux recorded them in 1960-61 (Decca), and almost 60 years later Alina Ibramigova (Hyperion) ignored fashionable ‘period practice’ with another highly distinctive set.
Pavel Šporcl too is a ‘modernist’, playing a ten-year-old, highly decorated blue violin, at high pitch. There’s no doubt of his dexterity and spirit when fast movements demand: his perpetuum mobile in the presto finale of Sonata No. 1 is hypnotic. Where Bach marks legato bowing, Šporcl achieves a convincing flow (in the last movement of Partita No. 3), and the opening of the E major Partita positively sparkles with energy.
Both Šporcl and his rather astringent violin are less convincing in slower, more pensive movements. While his bow deals with the harmonies below, it deserts the melodic line of Partita No. 1’s Sarabande. The instrument and the ambient acoustic of a Prague chapel often need more coaxing to sustain sound, particularly when the bow is reaching across the strings in multiple-stopped chords. Not so in the hugely taxing 11-minute Ciaconna ending the third Partita, a high point full of expressive detail while retaining the ongoing musical thread.