BACH Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (complete) • Sigiswald Kuijken (vn) • DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 77043 (2 CDs: 128:22)
British musicians of the tempo-strict style have so dominated the historically informed performance scene that I fear many listeners have forgotten that there were other schools of thought vying for public support during the 1970s and early 1980s. Dutch musicians were, in contrast to many English and some Americans, more concerned with inflection, rubato, aRead more singing tone, and what modern Yuppies call a “holistic” approach. They bound the solving of technical problems to matters of interpretive individuality. The primary, but not the only, musicians of this school were harpsichordist-conductor Gustav Leonhardt, recorder player Franz Brüggen, and the Kuijken family: Sigiswald (violin), Wieland (viola da gamba), Barthold (flute and recorder), and Piet (celesta and harpsichord). Sister Marie was also sometimes in the picture as a mezzo-soprano. All of the principal movers and shakers of the Dutch school (excepting Marie Kuijken, of course) were present and accounted for on Leonhardt’s groundbreaking recording of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos in 1975. It was a statement of musical principle even more so than a performance that proved a HIP orchestra could not only play in tune, but also could clarify the textures of orchestral playing better than most modern-instrument groups.
Yet it was this groundbreaking album featuring one solitary instrument that burst on the HIP world like a bombshell in 1983. Up to that point, it had been assumed that Bach’s solo violin works could only be performed in a more-or-less angular style, that the counterpoint and different “voices” of the music dictated their tempo, contour, and shape. Sigiswald Kuijken proved everyone wrong. He even proved that you could indeed play the Baroque violin without holding it either against the chin or chest, but against the shoulder; that the bow pressure need not be as loose as the Dolmetsch family had insisted, nor as hard as the British insisted; and that the musical style could be curved, even circular in general motion, rather than linear. That this may very well have been the way Bach conceived these works is further suggested by the single page of the manuscript reproduced in the record’s booklet. Bach never wrote the stems or flags of his 16th, 32nd, or 64th notes in a straight line, not even as approximately straight as Mozart and Beethoven did. They were as curvy and irregular as a roller-coaster ride.
I can still remember, in generalities, the lengthy, well-written, and extremely persuasive review of this recording by William Malloch, possibly America’s greatest musicologist, in a 1983 issue of Ovation magazine. In essence, he said (at much greater length) all the things I said in the above paragraph. And he was right. After a hiatus of about three years, when this recording suddenly disappeared from the shelves in 1987, it was issued on CD by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi in 1990. The fact that it has never left the catalog since is, I think, proof enough of its enormous ability not only to persuade the listener but also please the senses.
Above and beyond all the technical hurdles Kuijken overcame and musical decisions he made, these are performances of tremendous love and passion. This is Bach breaking through the glass ceiling of academia and speaking to us across the centuries. This is immense hard work and musicological research forged in the crucible of one man’s heart and soul and put forth for the world to judge its intrinsic worth. More than a quarter-century after they were recorded in November and December of 1981, they have been judged unassailable—not, perhaps, “definitive” readings, but better than definitive. They opened the doors to other individualistic interpretations, equally valid, none of which have anything to do with Nathan Milstein—fine musician though he was—sawing away in strict tempo and one volume level through them.
my humble opinionApril 15, 2013By A. Dias (Coimbra, Coimbra)See All My Reviews"following my violin teacher guide, I ordered this edition because it is the best one and Sigiswald is one of the master of Bach interperter. I'm luck to be able to order this from your company, for I couldn't find this interpretation and this recording in my country. Will order in future from your company. Thanks"Report Abuse