I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Bach: Violin Sonatas and Partitas - Kremer

Gidon Kremer records Bach's Sei Soli for violin, ECM New Series. Violin Partitas and Sonatas I first reviewed this set in January, 2006. Then, I said this:

I always raise an eye when a major artist, affiliated with one label, produces a CD on another label. Was it a favor to Eicher at ECM, or did DG not want another Solo partitas and sonatas in their catalog? If you already own some Bach, some BWV 1001-1006, and you figure you've heard it all, well, think again. This is impassioned playing, a gorgeous recording, and one will likely arrest your senses. Why not own another version? As Kremer says in the notes: "These are, truly, Himalayas of music. To confront their overwhelming height is to pay tribute to Bach's genius... We may even sense his voice becoming a companion in the struggle to find serenity on our path." What different ways there are to perform (and record) Bach's Sonatas and Partitas! I would pair this recording by Kremer with my first, recorded by Itzhak Perlman. Both are "modern" violinists, in a time where we now look backward when performing. Backward in a positive sense, of course. It doesn't mean Bach (or any other composer) cannot be performed on modern instruments. My only gripe is when we play modern, and then try to emulate the past. Why put theorboes in the orchestra with Vivaldi when we're playing on modern instruments with vibrato? To say Kremer's recording is "modern" is a compliment, he doesn't overdo vibrato, another quality I find tasteless when playing on the violin. In fact, I think performers today are learning from one another... "period" players are warming up, romanticist players are cooling down. Maybe. I don't much care what Kremer's theory is behind scholarship. He simply has made a definitive, tour de force (whatever that means), personal recording that sounds great. And he plays so well, too. He doesn't hold back, either. Listen to the famous long Chaconne. He's beating the living hell out of the instrument, broad, strong, intense strokes. Baroque purists might run in fear. But it's real authenticity. This is a man who's gotten into Bach's head, and his own, and is making this music his own. Above all, this recording exudes confidence. There's no doubt he owns the notes, the bow strokes, and makes sounds that feel convincingly authoritative. It might not be Bach's sound world, but it's Kremers. And that's something to admire. I recently acquired the Holloway recording of this music on ECM (look forward to a review). His take is different. So is Huggett's, and all the rest. Listening to Kremer simply makes you feel good. His interpretation might not be the "Best," but it's very good, and demands your full attention. He reveals qualities in these works I don't always hear. This is good! The recorded sound is excellent: close, but enough air and "reverb." Excellent, clean technique, and a beautiful violin sound. This has already become a favorite recording. Kremer takes chances where others are careful. His playing exaggerates the slurs and phrase groupings that would help any violin student get it right. Maybe overdone, but I like it. It's not what I typically hear. Back from my earlier review in 1/06: Kremer takes some interesting (long) phrase lengths in the Corrente of BWV 1004. Some are perhaps too long? I feel as if our singer is on the verge of running out of breath? More interesting things happen in this same work... the sarabande seems quicker than I'm used to, and the Gigue is played with seeming anticipation for something "on the other side" (and in this case, the long conclusion found in the form of a ciaccona). If the gigue were the true ultimate movement in this work, we might expect something different, but Kremer holds back on the almost-violent-like passion found on the first disc, and only provides glimpses of unbridled passion in small moments of fleeting notes. With a pause between the gigue and ciaconna (where I feel there ought not be one), full passion is turned "on." The opening provides us with yet another "solution" to playing triple-stops in Bach. Where as I found Huggett's solution the least amicable, this one seems to favor going to the two sustained notes as quickly as possible; our lower note is swashed aside in quick fashion. I am not sure Bach intended all three notes to sound at once or not; some scholars think so, and more than one recording has been made where we can hear the full glory of Bach's triple and quadruple stopped chords using different bows, or different instrumentation. Kremer's "reading" or "interpretation" of the grand ciaconna is, to me, a personal one; he takes liberties with dynamics and speed that seem to suggest he is taking special care to enjoy the work as a performer, and instead of treating the structure of the work only on the macro-level in some arched format, we get different moods at almost every variation. I seemed bothered that this was not a historical account. Or perhaps I was surprised I enjoyed it so! As readers know, I rarely (but not never) listen to Baroque works performed by non-specialists. Certain exceptions do stand out; Yo-Yo Ma (who I secretly believe plays more 'Baroque' in his second recording of the Bach Cello suites than he has ever admitted), Perlman, Gould, Hewitt, etc. Add Gidon Kremer to your list; this is a world class recording of likely one of the most important collections of violin music ever written. This is not to say it is a definitive version (could there be such a thing?), nor will it be everyone's favorite. Yet, there are significantly juicy, awesome things to be heard. Upon reaching the end, I didn't care for why it took 4 years of time to see this come to market. But start off the new year well with a recording you will likely treasure. I like this set. There's variety of dynamics, breathtaking speed, and impressive technique. Above all, it's Bach, who ought to be as proud as proud gets for writing such engaging, perfect, delicious music that in our day is still celebrated, and by so many folks, in different ways.

Bach's BWV 1052

Ah, the memories...