Enrico Onofri records the sonata and two partitas by Bach, BWV 1001, 1004, 1006
I paid over $30 for a single CD of Bach’s first solo violin sonata (BWV 1001), his second partita (BWV 1004), and the third partita (BWV 1006). I didn’t hesitate. Many years ago I read that Reinhard Goebel hoped to someday record Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas and of course, he never did. What a profound loss.
Today I consider Italian violinist Enrico Onofri as a favorite, one of the foremost active violinists specializing in baroque repertoire. The Japanese-produced disc came and I first took relish in reading the notes inside (which appear in Italian, English, and Japanese). I couldn't wait to hear one of my favorite violinists take on the ultimate works by Bach for violin.
Onofri continues to record on his violin made in the 1700s in Italy by an unnamed maker. He has a method for changing its sound somewhat, and it sounds glorious on this recording. (I compare the sound with his recent Corelli release, and while I recognize it as the same instrument, it is subtly different, too. Strings, bows, and pitch differences can aid the performer in altering the sonic character of their instruments.) Before I get to interpretation, the production quality on the recording is outstanding. Nothing gets in the way of us enjoying this music. It's miked close, but also has enough "air" for reverb.
Onofri wrote that he may never record the other two sonatas and first partita. I hope he’s kidding, because it would be a shame. He offers here a unique take on the music, based on what he says.
He writes at length about trying to not perform these works based on past traditions. But instead he wants to get to the essence of the music, consulting period treatises on violin technique, and referring to the autograph score. I get the historical perspective and applaud it. He doesn’t talk much about his own personal interpretation and what that contributes to the recording (although, to be fair, he does speak of performing these three pieces more, and feeling more comfortable performing them). I hear a lot of “Onofri” in the interpretation, especially the Ciaccona.
Following a trend here on the site, Onofri too references the “research” into the Chaconne by Helga Thoene and preceeds the Ciaccona with a reference to Christ lag in Todesbanden. Thankfully he places that reference (with such a beautiful, silky, distant-sounding violin tone) on its own track, so you can remove it (and should, I believe). Performers have no obligation at all to reference the source material or inspiration of composers in recordings. We believe, for instance, that Bach mimicked popular horn calls in his first Brandenburg Concertos for the horn parts, but are performers recording horn calls from 1705-1725 alongside their recordings? No. It’s interesting, yes, and it’s great fodder for a live concert where the performer(s) want to educate us about the music. That all said, there’s nothing taking away from the recording by including it, but listeners should be aware that it’s extra-musical commentary, and not part of what Bach left us in score. And added to that, there is no evidence of performance practice with that tune or the others referenced within Thoene’s work as being quoted before, or over, the violin piece.
It’s hard to summarize Onofri’s reading. All his articulations are clear, and intonation is excellent. In some spots he really pushes the tempo. And while these details, including some ornamentation added around cadences are different from most all recordings I can reference, his choices work. I think Onofri succeeds in giving us a “fresh” look at the Bach solo violin works. I think there’s a lot of his own personal taste and strengths at technique in there too, which isn’t bad. Not bad at all.
There is a still a “baroqueness” to the recording. The violin sounds different enough, rougher, perhaps, than the “smoothness” of, say, an Itzhak Perlman. Onfori's violin is pitched lower (390 Hz=A). Yet, I’m not letting that prevent me from suggesting that this recording with Onfori’s interpretation is the most apt candidate for becoming a new reference. It’s technically sound and carries plenty of emotional depth. The sound of his instrument is as rich, I believe, as any high-dollar Strad. And he’s not afraid to apply rubato to one phrase, or another, to really call attention to some beautiful little moments throughout each movement. It's these details that aren't really in a score, but they touch as performers. Maybe you could say its our way of responding to our soul.
So, here’s to hoping he finishes the excellent work already completed. He’s the man to bring us the second chapter and offer us the full-monty. I’m looking forward to volume two, sooner than later.
Most highly recommended.