Notes and Editorial Reviews
Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas
Kristóf Baráti (vn)
BERLIN 001673280 (2 CDs: 113:38)
Kristóf Baráti, playing on the 1703 Lady Harmsworth Stradivari, has followed up his recording of Paganini’s first two violin concertos with a complete set of Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas, which he recorded on September 7–12, 2009, in the Siemens Villa, Berlin. He suggests in the notes that he tried to preserve “many first takes nearly unmodified,” a preference that the short time
in which he recorded all six works must almost have necessitated but also one that he hoped would preserve the “liveliness” of a fresh performance. The lively resonances of the recording venue and the close but not intrusive distance of the microphone placement combine to present a verisimilar portrait not only of the artist as a young man but of the violin as a venerable masterpiece of the maker’s art.
In cooperation with a left hand alert in rapid trills and fleet runs, Baráti’s right arm produces a well-considered but hardly fussy version of the First Sonata’s Adagio. His reading isn’t so personal as Milstein’s nor so elegantly sonorous as Grumiaux’s—nor yet so probing as Szigeti’s—yet he manages in this first movement, as well as in the ensuing Fuga, to combine those elements of authority and technical security with a panache that seems like his own, even if it’s perhaps not identifiable. In the Fuga’s polyphonic passagework, he employs a wealth of dynamic nuance to create a sense of the music’s continuous contrapuntal development; and he does something similar in the Siciliana, which emerges more clearly as a dialogue than it often does. In the Presto, he recalls Milstein’s mixture of nobility and facility.
The First Partita’s dances, stylized or not, provide a showcase for Baráti’s rhythmic acuity. In his unrushed reading of the Allemanda, he nevertheless sharply characterizes the dotted rhythms in a violinistic, tonally affecting performance that makes the most of the strong contrasts created by leaps from register to register. In movements like these, rather than in the following double (or the Corrente’s largely scalewise one, in which he makes from the lines’ frequent changes in direction his own opportunities to sketch harmonies—it’s hardly metronomic yet hypnotic and almost mystical), he takes maximum advantage of the counterpoint buried in
simple textures and single lines. In the Borea’s and Sarabande’s sharply broken chords, Baráti recalls Heifetz’s care and facility; throughout the movement, his accentuation invariably serves a musical purpose beyond that of sheer aggressiveness—and this manner results in an iridescent reading of the Double.
In the Second Sonata, Baráti’s tonally varied performance of the Grave introduces a reading of the Sonata’s Fuga in which Baráti consistently builds long sentences and even paragraphs from the brief motive that serves as subject—all without sacrificing detail along the way. The Andante, which presents the upper registers in dialogue with the lower ones—this time offering accompanying lines of their own—resembles in general outline the First Sonata’s Siciliana, though with its polyphonic implications both more and less straightforward. Baráti seems to thrive in these tightly woven textures; and he plays the Allegro with a tonal sheen and a self-confident assertiveness equal to any I’ve heard; his last measures show how easily he incorporates non-metric ideas into his expressive manner.
Baráti adopts a brisk tempo in the Second Partita’s Allemanda yet manages to keep the movement alive intellectually as well as rhythmically by parsing the longer lines into smaller ones. Yet he never lets the forward motion stop or even pause; he achieves a similar effect in the Corrente. As in the First Partita’s Sarabande, he integrates sharp chords with subtle melody; the Giga strikes sparks. He takes only 12:57 in the Chaconne, a similar timing to those in Heifetz’s recorded performances, but his disinclination to linger appears from the movement’s very first chords; it’s unnecessary to look at the timing. Whether he sounds hurried or harried could serve as the subject for a great many discussions, but he gives the impression of hewing fairly closely to the tempo he chose at the outset. Still, so sharply does he characterize the variations and so convincing does his sense of direction remain throughout that it’s at least clear that his reading retains the majesty of more deliberate ones. He occasionally breaks a chord downward (as he does in the Second Sonata’s Fuga)—a practice that some decry, although he employs the practice infrequently.
The Third Sonata offers Baráti opportunities to string lines across the sturdy chordal posts Bach has driven into the movements, not only in the Adagio but in the Fuga as well. As he did in the case of the Chaconne, Baráti trots smartly through the massive and extended fugue. But, as in Milstein’s second reading especially, the statements in double-stops across strings gain in power and strength—and so, arguably, does the entire movement. An aria-like performance of the Largo leads to a concerto-like, yet nuanced, one of the final Allegro assai, another piece—like the Third Partita’s Preludio—that often serves as an independent piece in a recital or as an encore in a concert.
After such brisk readings of the Chaconne and C-Major Fuga, Baráti affects a surprisingly deliberate manner in the famous Preludio, which some violinists used to play as a sort of Paganini-like perpetual motion. But his tempos in the Loure and, even more so in the Gavotte (another recital piece), turn to the faster side, with bracing results as the Gavotte draws to a close. Such a manner in the Minuets teases them into playfulness. Energetic readings of the Bourée and Gigue bring the set to an auspicious conclusion.
In their fusion of grand rhetoric, sharp technique, and obvious musical intelligence, Baráti’s readings of this bedrock literature recall both the most majestic and the most thoughtful ones from an earlier era. Urgently recommended, especially to those who honor that tradition and who lament its coming to a premature and unfortunate end.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title