Having heard most of these celebrated works over the years at various recitals, I decided to take on the wonderful task of reviewing two sets from distinctly different artists, both championed by Bridge Records. The work was constructive, rewarding and deeply satisfying. And on the second page of this review, go back to 1975 and Nathan Milstein’s interpretations of these masterpieces (cross-reference below).
Where to begin?
The discs from Mark Kaplan (MK) arrived first, so he took the honours. Cecylia Arzewski’s (CA) version follows and from there on in, the last goes first, et cetera with each successive work.
Sonata I in G minor, BWV 1001
[Note: I will include the timings as each composition, which will tell more than the 4 disc total of MK = 176’; CA = 128’]
MK (16’ 56”)
The Adagio was given at a leisurely pace but always knew where it was going. All of the double stops rang true and the sense of cadence, along with an innate sense of phrasing, made Bach’s quiet drama come to engaging life.
The Fuga was infused with an intriguing bit of “hesitato”; more lift on the repeated notes would be welcome. The vigorous reading had many moments of absolute joy as everything resolved to any ear’s satisfaction.
The delicately rendered Siciliano—featuring excellent voicing—was ideally balanced by the drive of the Presto—with all repeats taken—and had just enough sonic ring.
CA (13’ 40”)
Here, the Adagio came across a tad pedantic, more flow, please! But the underlying drama was realized, frequently employing good breaths, further clarifying Bach’s architecture.
The Fuga had lots of energy and offered some “echo” phrasing that decidedly added to the overall result.
A definitely “relaxo” Siciliano suited the music to a T; perhaps the insertion of more staccati to contrast the legato would add still more interest.
The closing Presto suffered from affected triplets and no repeats, robbing listeners of the opportunity of letting the composer’s fast-moving lines truly sink in. Accordingly, this movement was ~ 1’ 30” shorter than her colleague’s.
Partita I in B minor, BWV 1002
CA (22’ 13”)
The first of the “dance” suites, found the opening Allemanda served up matter of fact, repeats taken (Hurrah!) while the “answering” Double rolled along easily with a well-defined bass line.
The Corrente was too affected for my taste, but had a variety of textures; the perpetuum mobile Double Presto was a zesty sorbet.
With all repeats taken and a thoughtful delicate delivery, the Sarabande proved to be easily the most expressive movement thus far. In its Double, the triplets were not clearly enough defined.
The deservedly famous Tempo di Borea was engaging from stem to stern. Moving attacca into the rollicking Double paid many musical dividends, as the “easy” double stops hit their mark along with a wonderful “bark” G string.
MK (30’ 52”)
Kaplan’s Allemanda was immediately poised and exceptionally faithful to the rhythm, magically disappearing into an octave of calm. The ensuing Double was carefully laid out—at times, as if telling secrets. Subtle shifts could be heard and felt on the repeat.
This Corrente had more short/long balance and the tasteful addition of a few ornaments. Its Double took no prisoners and dared one and all to come along for the ride. Bravo!
Permeated with thoughtful phrasing throughout, the Sarabande readily “said it again” (repeats). After all, with artistry such as this, what’s the rush? Its Double was the ideal icing on Bach’s creative cake.
Long-short balance and sprightly lines were the hallmarks of this beautifully crafted Tempo di Borea. The no-nonsense (just revel in the technique) Double brought the set to a heroic conclusion.
Sonata II in B minor, BWV 1003
MK (22’ 53”)
Grave begins with a marvellously lea, tawny tone and exceptionally clean declamations. Combined with wee additions of ornamentations and an impassioned mood it can’t fail to reach any heart. The concluding held “E” is in no hurry to say, “adieu”.
Simply put, the Fuga is stunning. The episodes build the architecture and reinforce their subjects; the double/triple stop techniques will boggle most minds, and the superlative voicing makes these eight minutes destined to be included on any serious music lover’s highlight reel.
A thoughtful, steady pulse informs Kaplan’s approach to the Andante—a veritable Song Without Words fuelled by a relentless bass. Taking time with A-flat harmonic surprises is as welcome as spring rain.
Varied touches and successful echo effects—at times a few impish interventions—all combine to make the concluding Allegro another tour to musical/violinistic force.
CA (20’ 09”)
The Grave lacks inner passions and is a tad looser than the music’s drive demands. Nonetheless, it gradually heats up, but requires more horizontal than vertical direction to convince. A few changes of texture (notably bar 21) are unexpected pleasures.
There is much to admire with the passage work of Fuga yet, overall, it feels a bit stilted and wanting more lean/weight within the inner voices (notably the chromatic shifts).
To realize Andante as truly “walking” would require an increase in pace by a couple of metronome notches.
The closing Allegro is ideally presented, but would improve if a bit more heat could be found between the lines. JWR