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.

Sei Solo a Violino senza Basso accompagnato, serie II

Bach violinsonatas schmitt The first thing you hear, especially if you're listening with headphones, is not Schmitt's violin. It's her breathing. This should be no mistake, I've read about her use of breath and breathing to inform her bowing and phrasing. It's also a very subtle reminder of the humanistic aspect of performance of this music. It's one person, a million images, and that alone is a projection platform for a menagerie of human emotional gestures. When I purchased this in France, I thought it was the entire set; instead, I came home cheated to just half of Bach's sonatas and partitas for violin. On this recording we get BWV 1003, BWV 1006, and BWV 1005 (in that order). I have long ago fallen in love with Hélène Schmitt's sound and interpretive gifts; her recordings of Carbonelli, Schemlzer, et al., have all been outstanding with her continuo team(s). But my pocketbook told me to stop there. Somehow, when I read about Amandine Beyer's complete recording I decided I needed another set of Bach sonatas and partitas. I quickly compared Beyer's faster Preludio from BWV 1006 to Schmitt's. Creamy is the word; Schmitt's violin is simply the better between the two, and I was immediately drawn to her "breathing" approach to the music. She takes things slower, but loses nothing of the magic from Bach's score. Her creamy, delicious playing is rich, not like skim milk, but like light cream, more sensual for sure. The engineers for Alpha decided to use a very close miking for this recording. You get everything with that, small warts and all. I don't mind them, actually. It's akin to being able to zoom-in close on a gigapixel photograph, you can keep zooming in to see more detail. It's a sometimes personal feeling I get, as if the artist is letting me get so close to her while playing that I could reach out and touch her shoulder. In the opening Grave from BWV 1003, as I mentioned the first sound is a generous breath. What we get a few bars later is the "crunchy crack" sound from the instrument; some folks would have wanted that edited out. It reminds me, as it does when it happens elsewhere, like the sound of her fingers lifting off one string, that there's a real person behind this music making. These are tiny flaws. But somehow here it doesn't ruin the recording. The cover has a rich light brown patina to it, from the painting featured of a man by Holbein. I might dare say it is honey colored (likely a little blown out from my Photoshop editing, the color in the real CD cover is a little more tame). That color fits the musical sound world perfectly here. The recording was made (as many Alpha releases are) in the Hôpital de Bon Secours in Paris. Despite being close miked, the reverb is ample. I too am reminded of the version of these works by Monica Huggett. Huggett, too, took a slower approach in many movements. She had close miking. But her recording lacked the reverb from this one; her Amati violin simply isn't as rich sounding. I love some of my recordings by Monica Huggett, but her Bach solo violin double-CD set was disappointing. I think it had somewhat to do with the recording. That's not to say Schmitt's success with Bach's sonatas and partita is only because of excellent sound engineers. Her interpretation--now I'm speaking not of the "sound" but her own interpretive contributions to the score--is really the highlight in my final analysis. There's no doubt in my mind that she's "feeling" this music as she performs it; and that sense comes from what I'd say is a very personal interpretation. Gidon Kramer's recording (which I reviewed and much enjoyed on ECM New Series) was personal too, but it seemed to be more about putting Bach's art on a pedestal as best he could. He was an artist crafting a sculpture from Bach's score that we could step back and admire. Schmitt is caressing a sculpture, and shows us how she enjoys what that feels like under her fingers. She takes the fugues more slowly, exploring them as counterpoint, rather than a violin showpiece. I like it. The result is juicy and fulfilling. I know I am projecting a lot of nonsense here, but that's my reaction. This recording is very exciting. In the past few years I've picked up several recordings of Bach's Sei Soli and this may just be the most exciting yet. I am only sorry I feared getting it sooner. And now I have the homework of finding the first volume.


Erlebach - Six Sonate