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18.4.07

Tetzlaff and Holloway, More Violin Bible

The Bach sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin are crucial works, the "Bible of music," as Gidon Kremer put it. Most serious listeners have more than one recording of them, and I find myself returning to many interpretations and always willing to listen to more. Ionarts has reviewed recordings by Gidon Kremer, Julia Fischer, and Rachel Podger, but also professed admiration for Nathan Milstein, Arthur Grumiaux, Shlomo Mintz, Itzhak Perlman, and Jascha Heifetz. Choice is not the problem, and here are two new recordings to consider for your bulging shelf.

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
J. S. Bach, Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, John Holloway, Baroque violin
(released October 10, 2006)
Jens has already given high praise to Rachel Podger's recording of the sonatas and partitas on Baroque violin. The recent recording by Baroque violinist John Holloway may compete with Podger for the HIP-minded market. In his Performer's Note, Holloway states that his earliest work on these pieces was in the authoritative Urtext editions (hooray, musicology!), preparing him "for the later step of working almost exclusively with a facsimile of Bach's autograph manuscript." This recording has the "ECM sound," live and immersed in the rich acoustic of the Propstei St. Gerold, where the Hilliard Ensemble has also been recorded for ECM. Holloway writes that the "Great Room in the castle at Cöthen where Bach was employed when he completed the Sei Solo has a similar sound." Holloway gets a searing sound from his Ferdinando Gagliano, made in Naples in 1760, which is so right for the slow movements. With the older style of bow, virtuosic passage work in a single running voice is impressive, as are the long held notes which can bloom with that hard edge to the sound.

I am convinced by Holloway's argument in his liner notes, that his experience as an early music specialist (working with Andrew Manze and Roger Norrington, among others) gives him a different perspective on the works of Bach. Performers who focus on mostly later music do not have enough experience playing Baroque dance music (preferably in the context of actual danced performances), which is crucial to understanding so much Baroque music, including the partitas. Holloway's performance of the Giga from Partita No. 2 is a vital, irrepressible romp of a dance, for example. He does push the tempi to a degree, with track timings that are often much shorter than Fischer's reading, and some movements with big multiple stops suffer. The famous Ciaccona is seductive and quick (13:04), although I remain strongly in the camp of Rachel Podger's rendition (13:36), although at least some of Holloway's tracks will likely make it into the "dream" compilation of the complete sonatas and partitas I intend to make on my MP3 player.

ECM New Series 1909/10

available at Amazon
J. S. Bach, Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, Christian Tetzlaff
(April 10, 2007)
German violinist Christian Tetzlaff has already released a complete Bach solo recording, in 2002 with Virgin. It is perhaps a little early to release another complete recording (Gidon Kremer waited 25 years), but that is exactly what Tetzlaff has done with this new release from Hänssler Classic. Tetzlaff's sound on his modern instrument, Peter Greiner's copy of a Guarneri del Gesu, was captured in the Hofkirke at Østre Toten, Norway, although there is none of the ring of space in this recording as in the Holloway. His Bach sound is decidedly clean, with vibrato rarefied to an admirable purity, and he tends toward regularity in rhythmic pacing. What I admire particularly is the wide range of tone, which can be reduced to a very narrow thread, and the attention to voice leading. Tetzlaff is the best I have heard so far at giving the illusion of counterpoint: in the multiple-stop pieces (good examples are the opening Adagio of the first sonata and the first partita's Allemande), he concludes one voice, nestling it at the top of a multiple stop, while another voice starts up from an independent place in the sound of the chord and sounds completely different.

Christian Tetzlaff:
available at Amazon
Bach Sonatas and Partitas
(Virgin, 2002), in half-price 4-CD set with Ralph Kirshbaum playing the Bach cello suites (thanks, Jens!)
The quality that may put off some listeners is its ultra-refinement, which could be interpreted as timidity or mildness. Tetzlaff's reading, perhaps sounding a little reserved and bookish like Tetzlaff in his press photos, is the antithesis of the raw, visceral sound produced by Gidon Kremer on his recent recording. For these unaccompanied works, which represent like almost no other an expression of the musical interior, that sound of a player at times lost in thought is quite appropriate. It is to be hoped that Christian Tetzlaff, in his upcoming appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra this week, might choose a Bach movement if called upon for an encore.

Hänssler Classic 5287318

Czech conductor Jiří Bĕlohlávek leads the NSO concerts this week (April 19 to 21), in an appealing program of mostly Czech music. Christian Tetzlaff will play as soloist for Mozart's third violin concerto (G major, K. 216) and for the NSO premiere of Janáček's Wandering of a Little Soul, a reconstructed violin concerto.

3 comments:

jfl said...

The Tetzlaff Virgin recording can be had for less than half the price - with R.Kirshbaum's Cello Suites thrown for good measure... all in one of those super-extra-budget 4-CD "4 Pleasure" sets of Virgin. Link

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks, Jens: I have noted that in the review and modified the Amazon link. A good deal indeed!

Jacobus said...

Tetzlaff first recording was made in 1994, not 2002.