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Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin BWV 1001-1006
Sigiswald Kuijken (Violin)
Final Review: Kuijken Sonatas and Partitas

S-2

J.S. Bach: Sonatas & Partitas BWV 1001-1006

Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin BWV 1001-1006 []

Sigiswald Kuijken (Violin)

Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77527

Dec 1999; Feb-Mar 2000

2-CD / TT: 135:46

Recorded at Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena, Italy.
2nd recording of S&P for solo violin BWV 1001-1006 by S. Kuijken.
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Final Review: Kuijken Sonatas and Partitas

Kirk McElhearn wrote (September 6, 2001):
Sorry to pepper you with multiple versions of this review, but I figured some of you would be interested. Here's my final review. This disc goes right to the shelves, and will probably only be taken out to show people just how bad a violin can sound.

Sigiswald Kuijken is both a fine violinist and an excellent conductor, with his group La Petite Bande. He has long specialized in Bach, recording cantatas, orchestral works, and a previous set of the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. One of the leading proponents of historically informed performances (HIP), in the 1970s, especially with Gustav Leonhardt, he has long been one of the stalwarts of baroque music.

These six pieces are the summit of the violin repertoire. Both melodic masterpieces and technical nightmares, no violinist worth his or her salt can ignore them. All the great violinists have recorded them, as, unfortunately, have many mediocre performers. Sigiswald Kuijken made a first recording of these pieces in 1983, which was a landmark recording. It was the first real historically informed performance of these works, played in period style (as much as this can be said) and on a period instrument. While this first recording has its rough edges, it remains one of the best versions of these works.

But it is not perfect. Kuijken¹s tone slips at times, his playing has its faults, but the energy is there - listening to the entire set, one can hear the drive behind this recording. Kuijken has been playing these works in concert for some two decades now. I was fortunate enough to hear them performed live a few years ago, in Tours, France, and found the same strengths and weaknesses as on the recording. That is, living music, with its imperfections, but with an undeniable level of energy.

When I saw that Kuijken was releasing a new recording of these works, I was delighted. His 1983 version is my favorite; I naturally assumed that, with time, it could only get better. I was not only wrong, but also very disappointed when I heard this new recording.

The 1983 recording has a unique sound. At the time, reverb was not a systematic addition to classical recordings, and the violin sounds close, present, almost as though it is playing right in front of the listener. But, now, nary a classical disc appears that does not try to sound as if it was recorded in the Winchester Cathedral. And, this is the main fault with this set. It has layers of reverb, making the sound of the violin disappear in a haze of effects. It almost sounds as if it were a mistake, it often sounds false, as if it were electronically processed, which, of course, it is. While sound engineers must believe that it adds something to the music, in reality it smoothes out the nuances, and hides the subtle harmonies. On this recording, it is so flagrant it is jarring - the magnificent A minor fugue, for example, sounds like several violins are playing together in a bathroom. (I thought it was just me, so I asked my wife - who is not interested in classical music, and knows nothing about recording or sound - and she was convinced that there were several instruments playing.) And it gets worse; in the fast and furious parts of the famous D minor Chaconne, the reverb makes the sound muddy, making it very hard to follow the music.

Why this terrible sound? Is this a techno version of the pieces? Is DJ Siggy trying out something new, remixing them for a younger public who is not used to the pure, unadulterated sound of solo instruments? Perhaps the producer felt that he could attract a new public by making the instrument sound like something it is not.

Not only does the reverb annoy, but the sound of the instrument is harsh and scratchy. Many people complain about this type of sound when hearing HIP versions of these works, and this can often prevent them from discovering some fine recordings. But, on this set, the sound is disagreeable - it is not what I expect a violin to sound like. The basses seem attenuated, and the trebles way too present.

Other than the sound, it does not seem that there is much difference between Kuijken¹s interpretation on his 1983 recording and this new version. If anything, he sounds more choppy and hesitant on this later version, although, in spite of the reverb, he seems to have much more mastery in the difficult passages of the Chaconne from the D minor Partita. The timings are a little longer than the first recording, but, when listening to the movements of both version sequentially, this difference hardly stands out. Also, he is playing on the same instrument; a different violin would make this recording stand out a bit more from the first one. I think of Anner Bylsma, who has recording Bach¹s Suites for Solo Cello twice, and whose use of a Stradivarius in the latter recording makes it very different from the first.

Listening to this recording has that strange feeling you get when meeting an old friend after many years and discovering that they are not exactly as you expected. I was so looking forward to a new recording of these works with the experience of time to give them more depth; I ended up hearing what sounds like a techno version of some of the finest violin music ever written. The only recommendation I can make is to avoid this set; if you want to hear a fine performance, pick up the first Kuijken recording, which, I hope, will remain available. If not, Lucy van Dael¹s recent set on Naxos is another fine historically informed performance.

This new recording of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin not only offers little improvement over Kuijken¹s 1983 recording of the same works, but is marred by terrible sound, which makes it almost unlistenable.

 

Feedback to the Review

Francine Renee Hall wrote (November 25, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I read your review carefully! A great review! And you saved me some money too, so I can avoid the 2nd Kuijken set and use the extra dollars for Christmas presents for others!! (usually CDs, of course!!!)

Saygilarimla Can Denizci wrote (November 25, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I said his stylistic approach both in his 1983 and new record.I am not emphasizing on the sound.I think the other violinists are making the conventional nuances and approximately they play the same (most of all).I prefer the baroqu style interpretation to annoying romantic style for example that of Menuhin.He plays it as if he plays Beethoven....

Kirk McElhearn wrote (November 25, 2001):
[To Francine Renee Hall] Glad I could help. But remember it is just one person's opinion…

 

Son& Partitas for Solo Violin BWV 1001-1006: Details
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
S&P - B. Cruft | S&P - R. Gaehler | S&P - H. Hahn | S&P - S. Kuijken | S&P - I. Matthews | S&P Guitar - P. Galbraith [K. McElhearn] | S&P Guitar - H. Smith [K. McElhearn] | S&P Guitar - H. Smith [Schweickert]
General Discussions:
Part 1 | MD - Chaconne
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
S&P - H. Hahn

Sigiswald Kuijken: Short Biography | La Petite Bande
Recordings of Vocal Works:
Part 1 | Part 2 | General Discussions
Individual Recordings of Vocal Works:
Cantata BWV 21 / Magnificat BWV 243 - S. Kuijken | Cantatas BWV 49, BWV 58 & BWV 82 - S. Kuijken | Cantatas BWV 9, BWV 94 & BWV 187 - S. Kuijken | BWV 232 - S. Kuijken | BWV 244 - S. Kuijken
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Final Review: Kuijken Sonatas and Partitas | Review: Musical Offering DVD

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Last update: ýJune 20, 2009 ý17:28:44