J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Julia Fischer
Individual Works:Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001
Partita No. 1 in B minor, BWV 1002
Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003
Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004
Sonata No. 3 in C, BWV 1005
Partita No. 3 in E, BWV 1006
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:PentaTone classics (SACD)
Catalog Number:PTC 5186 072
Year Released/Recorded:2004
Total Playing Time:73:08, 76:52
Comments:Thomas Hubeart said:

Julia Fischer begins her portion of the liner notes to her recording by attempting to anticipate some objections to her recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas at age 21: "Perhaps I should have waited a bit longer?" Thankfully, no apologia really seems needed once the listener begins to hear this very beautiful set of discs. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that these are actually Super Audio CDs; I am only able to listen to the CD layer of these hybrid discs, which is impressive enough, but what I have read of reviewers who have heard them as SACDs indicates that the sound quality that can be realized from that format is breathtaking.)

My own mental picture of these works is heavily dependent on Nathan Milstein's mid-1970s recording of them, a set that until now has been my personal "reference recording." Milstein's achievement can hardly be denied; his performances are truly powerful. However, I cannot help feeling that Milstein's conception of Bach conveys an overall sense that the heights of musical expression can only be achieved with difficulty. Everywhere this artist seems to be underlining the effort that propels these performances forward; his Bach is one who climbs like a Titan to the summit of a mountain to deliver his oracles to the world, not without laborious toil and strain.

While there is much to value in Milstein, it was with some relief that I found a much more graceful and poetic approach to these works from Julia Fischer. Compare, as just one obvious example, the last movement of the G minor sonata as played by Milstein with that of Ms. Fischer. Milstein certainly gives this music a strong profile, but for my taste it is too overdramatized, too busy making its rhetorical points to sing in the way that Ms. Fischer's does. The latter artist shapes the music but does not get in its way by underlining it excessively.

There are other instances where it almost seems that Ms. Fischer begins a movement in an overly restrained way, such as with the second movement fugues in the three sonatas, but it becomes clear that this is an artistic gambit. By holding back at the beginning, the artist gives herself room to build and develop the emotional impact up to the end (for example, the deeply affecting conclusion of the G minor work's fugue). And Ms. Fischer is able to bring the listener into a very different mood when she pleases, such as in the E major partita's opening prelude, which is as light and carefree as any Bach I have ever heard.

I do not pretend to be an expert in the various offerings of recordings of these works; many people will be able to name particular favorites among performers past and present. What I do feel confident in saying is that Julia Fischer's presentation has a lot to recommend it to both the connoisseur and the person new to Bach. This is a very attractive set, and I trust that it will continue to give listeners much enjoyment even when its lovely and youthful performer reaches double and triple her current age, and beyond.

Me'k said:

Although I'm not one of those people who obsess over older records and dogmatically insist they'll never be bettered, there are some classic recordings in my collection that I consider the very best of a particular work. For a long time, one such favorite was Arthur Grumiaux's recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas. It WAS, that is, until I got this album! This quickly became my favorite recording of these works. Though the Sonatas and Partitas are utter warhorses that every major violinist has to record as a rite of passage, (some more than once, even) this album still manages to offer a new perspective and get my attention whenever I listen to it. Julia Fischer generally favors fast tempi, but the Prestos and Gigues don't sound rushed, and the slow movements retain a warmth that admittedly the Grumiaux version somewhat lacked. She pays attention to the smallest details, but the music never sounds too petted and dressed up. She uses plenty of rubato without scattering the essential rhythm, not fattening up parts a la Perlman. Her overall sound is lean, fast, and energetic, without ever sounding rushed, mechnical, or extraneous. You can check out her website, juliafischer.com, for sound samples. Yes, she's only 23 years old, (21 at the time of the recording), but genius is genius, and her youth is a strength in this album.
I loved every moment of these two discs (Hybrid Super-Audio CDs, by the way), and am now hoping Julia will record Bach's Violin Sonatas (BWV1014-19) someday. C'mon Julia!

David Perrine said:

Self-produced labor of love. Refreshingly undogmatic approach. No scratchy chords or shrill tones. Sound is a bit dry on some tracks. Part way through the sessions they moved the mics back and got a lovely sound. Available from CD Baby.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Thomas Hubeart
  • Me'k
  • David Perrine
Date First Submitted:11/15/2006