BWV 1001-1006. Now in 2011, we have a number of excellent digital recordings at the ready, many recorded on the so-called baroque violin. Among them is this new release from the French violinist Amandine Beyer, for Zig-Zag Territories. The cover depicts a woman, looking away from us, and her body and dress are some how liquid, being dragged out in blank ink. It's artfully done, and maybe in fact be the artist. It lists her as playing the violon, for in 2011, we don't bother any longer with defining a performer by the age or style of their instrument. I've come to know Beyer by way of her earlier recordings, such as the one by Matteis, and another by C.P.E. Bach. Watching video of her perform, I was impressed with her interpretive style and her desire to change her playing position to accommodate the habits of the composer (Matteis). First, Beyer is playing a beautiful instrument. It's listed as a modern copy by Pierre Jaquier from 1996. It's got a dark character, with some of the lower notes with a lot of bloom to the sound. She plays without much notice at all of vibrato (win win for me). She plays in a very sympathetic acoustic, with enough "air" to support her instrument, but not "so live" that that we feel she's far away from us (or her microphones). Occasionally we may hear her breathe, but otherwise, the recording is well done. Bowing rarely has a sharp "edge" sound. A great example is the fourth movement (Allegro) of sonata BWV 1003. She's careful enough to vary her articulation but her bow hand never digs into the strings with force. I find this pleasing, but "the softness" of attack might really stand-out for fans used to a more traditional, "romantic" era violin and bow. Beyer plays with a range of dynamics that supports the music in interesting and affective ways. Nothing is over done, but we might not expect it to be with a baroque mindset. For many of these tracks, Beyer plays with an approach in which she seems to be enjoying the music. As a bonus track, she offers the Pisendel Sonata a violin solo senza basso in four movements. The booklet notes mark the connection between Pisendel's solo sonata (after the style of Bach's?) and the inspiration for Bach of the solo violin works by Westhoff. Anton Steck has recorded the solo Pisendel, and has made it to sound quite difficult; a serious struggle. Beyer whips it off more carefully, but also in a far less-serious presentation. From the notes:
All the same, we should certainly take care not to see the Sonatas and Partitas in an exclusively serious light. And provocation, derision and humour are indeed to be found in them: one need only recall that the fugue of the Sonata in C major is the longest Bach ever composed, or point out the popular-sounding, pompous theme of the Gavotte en rondeau (Third Partita), and notably its conclusion, which brings the learned thematic development to an end with a deep pantomime bow. And what is one to think of the final piece of the set? That brief Gigue, simple and fluid, which can be played as it comes from start to finish, without one double stop! Could this be the composer begging our pardon for the wild imaginings that have gone before? Or recommending that we should not take them too seriously? Does he wish to draw the conclusion that effort, doubt and reflection lead to enlightenment? Beyer sees Pisendel as a central figure to the works, alongside her desire for us to not take them so seriously. To wit: That’s why I thought it was an interesting idea to add the Sonata by Pisendel,] this virtuoso violinist, written in a language much closer to the instrument’s idiom, and whose lyricism and technical pitfalls (certainly perfectly suited to the hand of the composer-performer) suggest to me a Baroque version of the Sonatas of Eugène Ysaÿe. I don’t think it’s rash to assert that Pisendel’s talent must have been central to the process which produced this work that surpasses our understanding. For more on the label behind this release, [visit their website. And don't delay in picking up this interpretation. It's at its best kind of free and relaxed, with not getting too slow. It's well done, and significantly different than others I own. It's Beyer's first solo album, but it's superb. It's less severe than the excellent recent interpretation by Mullova, it's more natural sounding than Huggett's, and the sound and recording are leagues improved from the release by John Holloway. But John, how does she do with the most famous "track," the chaconne? If you have around 13 minutes (exactly the time she takes to perform Bach's movement from his Partita, BWV 1004), you go on a journey. Busoni's rendition for the piano is a wonderful journey. And in the hands of the right violinist, you'll be transported, too. Among my favorites is the rendition of late done by Gidon Kraemer for ECM. He's got that hard attack down well (using an adjusted Baroque instrument and modern bow), but he simply milks more out of this showpiece than most. Beyer's version is nice. It's more tame than some, but it's a tasteful and beautiful. It's less about what she brings and more about what she let's Bach do as the composer. She passed my litmus test.