Monica Huggett, violin performs the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo ViolinBWV 1001-1006, (p) 1997 Virgin Veritas For many years we only had Kuijken on baroque violin for Bach. Then in the late-1990s, we started to see some more "baroque" violinists try their fingers at Bach's (the world's) masterworks. Among them, Monica Huggett, who made a recording with a very close microphone. Her colleagues from Sonnerie produced the album. Bach in 2001, I had some things to say, and they were not kind. To wit,
For solo violin, Bach wrote three sonatas, BWV 1001 (g), 1003 (a), and 1005 (C). I was anxious to get this set, as it was one of the first, in a long time, to offer these important works performed by a Baroque specialist. Previously, I had bought Wallfisch's version on Hyperion. Monica Huggett uses her early-1600s Amati violin, and speaks so highly of it, along with her fashion photos in the booklet, you get prepped for something that just "has to be good." She warns us, though, "I have tried to dwell less on the virtuosic aspects in favour of a more purely musical interpretation." Huggett also tells us she's concerned with Bach's sound world and that her violin suits Bach because of it's 17th--century Italian sound. Composers like Corelli, she reminds us, served as the models for Bach's music. It is perhaps all her thinking that doomed this performance. While Italian forms and music were in vogue at Bach's time in Germany, we cannot forget the long tradition of German violin composition and construction. Bach owned a Stainer violin, not an Amati. Many of the tempos Huggett takes, especially for her very dry and close-up acoustic, are far too slow. While the way she accents certain notes is entertaining, it's sometimes awful hard on the ears. The treatment of the G-minor fugue is just horrible. I'm sad she teaches students. The way in some movements, take the G-minor Presto, how she starts slow and then accelerandos, is very strange. I don't recall ever reading or hearing others talk about this phenomenon of performance practice. Perhaps she's just marking-off phrases this way, but it's too exaggerated. Then, later, Huggett put out some Biber CDs of violin music, and I felt she had woken up. Suddenly, her playing was far more agreeable to my ears. Auditioning the Bach again, I think I might have some different things to say. First, I still don't like her comment about focusing on the "musical" aspects of the music. Of course everyone is focusing on the music. If the music is so great that it makes you play extra fast, or in an extrovert, forced way (virtuosity over the pure music), then well, do it... authenticity ultimately is within the performer. And we have to assume this is how she feels the music. I think her account is honest. She certainly knows more about historical string playing than I do, and I assume she's following some of those guidelines. If I could perform the works, which I cannot, I'd play it a little more eccentrically, ala Glenn Gould (but on the violin). Now, since this recording, I have warmed considerably to the Gidon Kraemer release this past summer on ECM. It's not "historic", but man, it's from the heart, 100%. At times, I still feel like Hugget's playing this violin music on the piano rather than the violin, and some of the tempos lack push. Yet, her sound is nice. It's considerably nicer than Walfisch's sound, and I find it more engaging, let's say, than Manze's. Where Manze lets the enthusiasm of the music get him (in his reading of the Toccata and Fugue, transcribed for solo violin, BWV 545), which is what I'd like more of here, Huggett does, I feel, respect the music and treat it with a bit of caution. That said, her intonation is pretty remarkable and consistent. It could all be less careful, but perhaps it wouldn't be as "polished." I've warmed to Huggett's Bach release somewhat, but I still hold on to some of my earlier convictions. Ultimately, not a favorite, but it does earn a respected place within my collection, and for what she does have to say about Bach's music, sometimes, is a nice change and perspective.