Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin

WORKS: Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin
PERFORMER: John Holloway (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: 476 3153-4
Bach’s six solos for unaccompanied violin are evenly divided into Sonatas and Partitas. The Sonatas follow the Italian ‘da chiesa’ pattern which, to all intents and purposes exclude explicit dance movements, while the Partitas are essentially dance suites albeit with abstract introductory preludes.


John Holloway, playing a violin set up in the Baroque manner enters a field now well populated with period instrument performers. In short, he is up against Sigiswald Kuijken, the elder statesman of the baroque violin (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi), Monica Huggett (Virgin Classics), Lucy van Dael (Naxos), Rachel Podger (Channel Classics) and more recently Helène Schmitt (Alpha), to name the front-runners; Julia Fischer (Pentatone) whose playing of these pieces appeals to me enormously, plays a violin tuned to today’s pitch and with a modern bow.

In some previous recordings Holloway’s pitching of intervals has not afforded unqualified pleasure; but his recent Biber discs on the ECM label were impressive and I have few quibbles over intonation in these Bach recordings. Just occasionally, as in the Tempo di Borea of the B minor Partita, he lacks the delicacy of Huggett, the precision of Podger and also perhaps the exuberance and warmth of personality that she brings to the music. Holloway’s approach strikes my ears as being more introspectivE and more academic than Podger and, in these respects he shares the values of Kuijken.


Thus, as we should expect the great D minor Chaconne comes across with a nobility built upon a firm architectural foundation, free from redundant or aggressive gesture, and which embraces without undue effort Bach’s myriad technical challenges and harmonic diversity. These well-phrased performances can be thoroughly commended. Nicholas Anderson