This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Among my colleagues, David K. Nelson has been most recently on the case of the Bach solo sonatas and partitas. I refer regular readers to his thoughtful discussions in Fanfare 21:1 and 21:3, where he expressed enthusiasm for the classic Sándor Végh set reissued on Valois; for a new set by the youthful Stefan Milenkovich on Dynamic; and for the even younger and phenomenally gifted Hilary Hahn's Sony disc of the Second and Third Partitas and the Third Sonata. Wisely, he paused also to remind us of the lasting qualities of recordings by Szigeti, Milstein, Menuhin, and Perlman. To those recommendations, I would myself add Sergiu Luca—a pioneer in the period-instrument field more than 20 years ago—and Sigiswald Kuijken. There are
also admirably musical if occasionally unscholarly modern-instrument versions by Arthur Grumiaux and Yossi Zivoni, the last-named a too-little-known Israeli violinist who sounds wonderfully relaxed in his Meridian recordings of this music.
If you suspect that all these preliminaries are an attempt to postpone tackling the Monica Huggett set currently under review, you are not entirely wrong. I find it hard to arrive at a balanced critical conclusion on this one. It is easy enough to see—and hear- -what Huggett is aiming at. She observes in a booklet note, "The bass must always be given extra attention so that the balance between harmony and melody is not tipped too far in melody's favour."
This makes sense as far as it goes, and it explains her meticulous way of dwelling on the lower notes in Bach's many multiple-stopped passages. But a just balance between harmony and melody can still distort the music if it disregards the demands of rhythm, and that is what seems to me to happen here. To some degree, Huggett's constant stop-go approach undermines the rhythmic integrity of the fugal and other movements of the sonatas, and this effect is not merely a local one: In the majestic fugue of Sonata No. 3, at moments when monodie passages are succeeded by a return to multiple stopping, the entire movement is repeatedly thrown off course by the apparent establishment of a whole new tempo unrelated to what went before. Alternating with an often undignified dash through simple single-line figures, this recurring ponderousness of chords is even more damaging to the partitas, since they are largely made up of dance movements whose character is dependent on some regularity and lucidity of pulse. Meanwhile, Huggett rarely succeeds in—rarely even seems to attempt—the sleight of hand needed to make the listener hear the longer notes in the fugues as if they really were part of a sustained line—an illusion that Kuijken for one on his period instrument, and Zivoni for another on his modern instrument, pull off much more convincingly.
Stylistically, Huggett is on firmer ground in most of her performing decisions. I find it odd, however, that she essays embellishment in only a small handful of repeats, and odder still that in one movement—the Sarabande of the Second Sonata—she ornaments the first repeat with skill and taste and then leaves the second one unvaried.
With all that said, I must not neglect to add that there are many beautiful and touching things to be heard on these two discs. Huggett rightly notes "a certain sweetness" as among the natural attributes of her 1618 Amati, and it emerges to advantage, at her generally leisurely tempos, in the spacious recorded sound produced by Emilia Benjamin and Sarah Cunningham. Once or twice the microphone pickup might be thought a shade too close, for it captures some obtrusive sliding-on-fin-gerboard noises of the kind more familiar from guitar recordings, and the rather fierce sonority of the louder multiple stops is likely to appeal only to listeners with a predilection for uncompromising period-instrument sound.
Clearly I cannot offer prospective purchasers of the set either unqualified encouragement or the reverse. I hope merely that 1 have given a detailed enough picture of what it actually contains to help readers judge whether or not it may be to their personal taste. What I do not doubt, for it is evident throughout, is that Monica Huggett loves these great works passionately and has thought long, hard, and intelligently about them, even if her conclusions often clash with my own.
-- Bernard Jacobson, Fanfare [9/1998]
Works on This Recording
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