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More Editions of the Violin Bible

available at Amazon
Bach, Sonatas and Partitas (BWV 1001-1006), S. Khachatryan

(released on April 20, 2010)
Naïve V 5181 | 2h33

available at Amazon
Bach, Sonatas and Partitas (BWV 1004-1006), I. Faust

(released on May 11, 2010)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902059 | 68'57"

Online scores:
BWV 1001-1006
For most violinists, Bach's unaccompanied sonatas and partitas are the "Bible of Music," as Gidon Kremer once put it. There are so many good recordings of these six works that which one you acquire for your collection -- if you think one is enough (it's not) -- depends on your tastes. Those who like their Bach more or less modern may go with with the classic and somewhat Romantic Nathan Milstein, the magisterial (and nicely discounted) Arthur Grumiaux, or the all-out Gyspy Romantic Jascha Heifetz; for overall beauty and not as much bend or incision, Julia Fischer; for the historically informed of mind, either John Holloway or Rachel Podger; for those somewhere in between, the full-throated but also intellectually leaning, contrapuntally minded Christian Tetzlaff; for the complete outlier, the aforementioned Gidon Kremer, not recommended for anyone who wants conventional Bach.

These two new releases are worthy of mention, too. It is no surprise that Sergey Khachatryan, winner of the 2005 Queen Elisabeth Competition, has made a fine recording of the "Sei solo," as Bach put it on his manuscript copy (.PDF file) of these pieces. The cover photo, by Marco Borggreve, shows Khachatryan in a properly prayerful pose before the Violin Bible, and the sound of the 1702 "Lord Newlands" Stradivarius in these performances, captured at the theater of La Chaux-de-Fonds (known as "L'heure bleue"), is clean and magnificent. The slightly over-nervous vibrato is still there, but less pronounced than in his two local concerto appearances in Washington. (Khachatryan returns to the District of Columbia next season, in an intriguing program with the National Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Kirill Karabits, on January 13 to 15.) The interpretation is more Paganini than HIP, with the famous chaconne from the second partita, for example, stretched and warped into something very personal at 16'25". The fast dance movements have admirable pep, though -- like the Allegro assai of the third sonata, more pleasing than the somewhat overly dour fugue -- and he often renders multiple-stop chords in a fairly strict rhythm, making them more of an ornament than an end unto themselves, which seems right.

Isabelle Faust has also just released what is apparently the first volume of a projected complete set. As profiled in String Magazine, the German-born violinist's tastes range widely, and we have already admired her Schumann violin sonata set and contribution to Alexandre Tharaud's Satie album. In her many recordings of contemporary music, she says one has only to ask the composer questions about what is intended, something she tries to replicate with long-dead composers through extensive research. As for her recent complete Beethoven recording, with pianist Alexander Melnikov (review forthcoming), she turned to historical sources, in the case of Bach, working with harpsichordist Andreas Staier. It shows in a lean, taut sound, kept largely pure of extraneous vibrato, and a thrillingly propelled (but not slavishly metrical) rhythmic approach, as in the startling fast chaconne, which clocks in at just 12'26". Of these two new recordings, Faust's is the one that most caught my ear with its daring intepretations, accomplishing more or less what she said she wanted to do by playing the Bach pieces: "I want to get as close to Bach as I possibly can, and yet still transform it into something that’s my own personal vision." She worked from the manuscripts and scrupulously observes all of Bach's articulations, including what is often the most pleasing part of HIP-influenced performance, a willingness to play detached articulations that liven up so many of the dance movements. We will be watching for the second volume.

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