Johann Sebastian Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (feat. violin: Isabelle Faust) Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

The recording is a peach, perfectly framing Faust’s superb musicianship.

Andrew McGregor 2010

Any violinist will tell you that Bach’s six suites for solo violin are miraculous creations. And they’ve had a fascinating history on disc, with some of the 20th century’s greatest violinists recording the set. But with the rise of the baroque specialist playing period instruments and alive to the latest scholarship, the kind of sounds and style of playing changed.

Sigiswald Kuijken’s pioneering recording in 1981 is at the vanguard of a steady stream of fine baroque violinists, like Monica Huggett, John Holloway, Lucy van Dael, and Rachel Podger – who’s a particular favourite for the sheer exuberance and joy of her playing, as well as everything she can teach us about the different colours you experience with gut strings at a lower pitch, and the myriad ways in which a baroque bow affects phrasing and articulation. A new generation of modern violinists has been listening, and learning, as you’ll know if you’ve heard the likes of Viktoria Mullova, Julia Fischer or Alina Ibragimova in their recent recordings of solo Bach, each of them adopting different aspects of the baroque violinist’s art, and experimenting with bows, strings, vibrato and phrasing.

Now we can add Isabelle Faust, whose sound is deliciously straight with little or no vibrato, and bowed with such sensitivity to Bach’s phrasing that you could almost kid yourself at times that she’s using a baroque bow. But a couple of features are especially telling: her instinct for ornamentation in the repeats, and the sense of cumulative musicianship – a momentum that builds not just in individual movements like the great Chaconne that ends Bach’s D minor Partita, but through each suite. The Chaconne is on the brisk side, but beautifully built from the opening chords, and the Adagio and Fugue that open the C major Sonata are also particularly well handled by Faust, the slow opening movement stroked into life, before the different voices of Bach’s monumental fugue are laid before us.

Faust’s playing has elements of Mullova’s power, Ibragimova’s intimacy, Fischer’s bravura, and Podger’s delight in Bach’s dances, and the recording is a peach, perfectly framing her musicianship. There’s only one thing wrong with it: there are only three of the six suites here, the D minor and E major Partitas and the C major Sonata, and I’m impatient for volume two.

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