When it came time for Johann Sebastian Bach to publish his Opus 1, what work do you think he picked? One of the sacred cantatas? One of the Brandenburg Concertos? One of the cello suites? No, none of the above. In 1726, Bach chose his B flat major Partita to start his publishing career – and once a year for the next five years, he published five more partitas, then collected them under the title Clavier-Übung in 1731. When it came time for Hungarian pianist András Schiff to make his major-label debut, what work do you think he picked? Yes, that's right. In 1985, Schiff released his recording of the complete partitas – and followed it with many more Bach recordings over the next few years until he'd released nearly the complete canonical works by 1996. And yes, Schiff's partitas are wonderful.
Isabelle Faust has gone back to the original manuscript sources to offer us her version of a masterpiece of the violin repertoire. In Bach’s time, music for solo instruments was still little explored territory, and his sonatas, partitas and suites immediately established themselves as a benchmark, technically challenging and brimming with creativity. Isabelle’s previous recording was our best selling title over the Christmas period.
The star of the young Hungarian violinist Kristóf Baráti is quickly rising. Having won several important international competitions (the most recent first prize at the prestigious Paganini Competition in Moscow) he plays with important orchestras and conductors, like Charles Dutoit, Kurt Masur, Iván Fischer, Yuri Temirkanov and Marek Janowski. His recent recording of Beethoven’s complete violin sonatas with Klára Würtz received rave reviews: “5 stars…a great duo, comparable with Perlman/Ashkenazy, Grumiaux/Haskil, Ferras/Barbizet’ (Diapason), “A talent that comes along once in a decade, perhaps once in a generation, I don’t say it lightly, but once you’ve heard Baráti and Würtz you’ll never listen to anyone else again” (Fanfare). This recording of the great solo Bach was issued on Berlin Classics in 2009, and shows the sovereign command over the matter, and a deep understanding of the spirit of these masterworks.
This is a glorious disc. Simply glorious. Anderszewski and Bach have long been congenial bedfellows and the Pole’s playing here is compelling on many different levels. To start with, there’s the sense of sharing the sheer physical thrill of Bach’s keyboard-writing. This is particularly evident in faster movements such as the fierce and brilliant fugal Gigue that concludes the Third Suite, or, in the E minor Fifth Suite, the extended fugal Prelude and the outer sections of its Passepied I. Common to all is a sense of being fleet but never breathless, with time enough for textures to tell.
This set includes two of the rarest and hardest to find of all recordings: the 1958-59 version of the Bach Cello Suites by Janos Starker – the one everyone says his later recordings cannot match – and the extremely beautiful performance of Bach's unaccompanied violin sonatas and partitas – the one that Japanese collectors pay 3-digit dollar prices for – in outstanding EMI Digital Re-Masterings.
The late Nathan Milstein’s 1975 stereo remake (DG mid-price) was his own preferred version of these pillars of the violin repertoire with which he had been so associated since his youth in Odessa. But his (broadly faster) mid-Fifties New York account, now remastered and restored by EMI, was a famous yardstick of its time – a grandly phrased, aristocratically structured, Romantically resonant statement to treasure beside Menuhin and Heifetz. These are epic virtuoso performances justifying Milstein’s view that with this music the performer could ‘bask in the most glamorous light’. Stylistically, purists will object to their expressive liberty and gesture. But few will be able to resist their artistry or intensity of delivery.