, July 2005
"This recording, made in 1984 and 1985, was first released c.1987 on the Smithsonian Institute label. The village church of Oltingen canton of Basel, Switzerland, a space that seemed particularly favourable to the sound and atmosphere of Bachs music, was chosen by Jaap Schröder as the recording location. In the same spirit he chose a Dutch baroque violin and a baroque bow.
While much of Bachs music has a strong religious focus, there are also other interesting religious/music parallels exemplified by these Sonata and Partitas. Each original composition is represented by a multitude of interpretations, arrangements and methods of execution on variations of the same instrument. There are often very strong and convincing arguments for individual interpretations and performances, but in the end there is an element of truth in all. It was Vladimir Nabokov who wrote "Remember that what you are told is really three fold - shaped by the listener, reshaped by the teller, and concealed from both by the dead man of the tale."
The superb notes by Mr. Schröder deal with these matters in some depth. Comparatively they are far superior to those of any other recording auditioned in conjunction with this review, and reflect the understanding of a master musician inspired by a work of genius. To explore in detail the fascinating history of these works, the instrument on which they are played and the various interpretive approaches would be a delight; but too voluminous and rather self indulgent in this forum designed primarily to focus on review of actual musical performance. For those who purchase this new recording, Jaap Schröder will take you on that journey far more articulately than I am able.
Mr. Schröder supplies a good deal of information and justification for the use of baroque instrumentation, much of which has both intellectual and common sense appeal. He comments as follows:
&"What seems appropriate and right in one generation becomes old-fashioned and will be rejected in the next one, and no performance style is able to escape the critical judgement of a later period. It is not the continually more detailed knowledge about the past that is the severest judge; it is the ever-changing conception of taste, as applied in perfect good faith in the interpretation of Bach’s music. De gustibus non est disputandum leads also to the conclusion that the taste of today will inevitably be deemed old- fashioned by the musicians of the early twenty-first century"
In the same vein as those readers of fiction who have a propensity to read the last chapter first, aficionados of these works, when reviewing a new recording, will often play first the Chaconne (Ciaccona) from BWV 1004. This is the crowning glory of the set. From this one may learn a great deal about everything the musician has to offer. Considered the most challenging of music written for solo violin it makes unprecedented demands on the performer’s expressive, interpretive and technical abilities.
The Chaconne’s vast structure is based on sixty-four variations of a single open-ended four-bar phrase. Two sections in the minor enclose a centre section in the major and the movement displays almost every resource of Bach and the violinist’s art. It has been transcribed and arranged in many contexts. Brahms arranged a piano version for left hand only; Busoni made a grand arrangement for piano; Andrès Segovia transcribed it for classical guitar; Leopold Stokowski did a full orchestration; Nigel North arranged it for Baroque lute.
After listening to a variety of arrangements and transcriptions and ten or so on the original instrument, the most significant variation noted is tempo. For good or for bad, this has a profound effect on the reading. Of the violinists the slowest rendition is that of Hilary Hahn [17’74’] which detracts from an otherwise magnificent recording of BWV 1004 and 1006. Itzhak Perlman comes a close second [15’46’], with 14’30" being an average time. The slowest time encountered was that by guitarist Paul Galbraith [19’56’] – Delos 3232. On the review recording Jaap Schröder performs at a most enjoyable tempo [13’50"] and gives a first class account of himself in this movement.
A thorough listening to all of the Partitas and Sonatas on the review disc leads one to the conclusion that this is a fine recording by a master musician who, over many years, has developed a deep empathy and love for these masterpieces. A major challenge as Mr. Schröder so aptly describes it "Is the ever changing conception of taste as applied in perfect good faith to the interpretation of Bach’s music."
Since this recording was made, a number of outstanding young players have added to the discography. If this writer were to make an overall observation (not criticism) relative to the more recent recordings it would be that in certain movements the newer readings are much more "spirited", an extra dimension to just intellectualisation. There is no better illustration of this than Hilary Hahn’s rendition of the Prelude from BWV 1006 (Hilary Hahn Plays Bach-Sony SK 62793). Lara St John also gives the same impression in her playing of the Chaconne from BWV 1004 (Lara St John - Bach Works for Violin, Well Tempered Productions WTP 5180). This is arguably the finest reading available in recorded format.
A reviewer once referred to the interpretations of Mozart’s symphonies by Swiss conductor Peter Maag as being "for all time". Unencumbered by musical fashion or whim, this is an apt description for Schröder’s interpretations.
This Naxos re-release of Bach’s Partitas and Sonatas for unaccompanied violin is, in every sense, a fine recording. Especially worthy of acknowledgement is the very warm sound of the Baroque violin. The superb accompanying notes by the musician are a "must read" for anyone with an affinity for these masterpieces."