In 1993 the twenty-something Christian Tetzlaff recorded the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin on the Virgin label. Then in 2002 Virgin repackaged the set, combining it with Ralph Kirshbaum's complete Bach solo cello works, at a superbudget price. Now Tetzlaff has recorded a new set of performances of these solo works, and Hänssler Classics has issued them at full price. So the question arises, if one wants to hear Tetzlaff in these works, which version should one buy? The two sets are similar in that Tetzlaff, who has a reputation for a technically faultless and musicologically impeccable style, has not changed all that much in the intervening fourteen years. But there are differences, subtle though they may seem to be. Tetzlaff, who has played these works regularly throughout his career, seems to be much more at ease with both the technical and musical aspects of the works. His arpeggios are more subtly nuanced, the basic pulse of his playing is more even -- he doesn't, for instance, stretch the pulse to accommodate double/triple stops or four string arpeggios -- and he conveys the harmonic sense of these works with greater clarity. Further, there is greater dynamic variety, range of tonal color and clearer articulation. These recent performances are indeed masterful and definitely worth hearing.
Tetzlaff uses a different violin than the one he used in 1993. If I'm not mistaken back then he was playing the 'ex Cox Rothschild' Stradivarius, but in recent years he has been playing violins newly made by German luthier Peter Greiner. The current fiddle has a luscious dark sound and Tetzlaff is quoted as saying, 'It just gets better without any help. It's versatile and easily playable. I'm one hundred percent sure that if I compared it with a Strad or a Guarneri in a double-blind test, no one could identify it as a new violin. Its basic sound is somewhat darker than my earlier Greiners and has an attractive rough edge, but it can also be brilliant and I can achieve many colors on it.'
There are those who say that Tetzlaff's playing is similar to that of Gidon Kremer, but I don't hear that at all. Kremer's playing is more overtly emotional while Tetzlaff's is more elegantly Apollonian. For Bach, I must say, I prefer this latter approach.
The question remains, though, which version of Tetzlaff's Bach solo violin works to own. I think it may come down to a matter of price. I like both sets but if money is not an issue I prefer this more mature, more thoughtful and subtle present set. However, one cannot go wrong with the earlier Virgin set with its bonus of Kirshbaum's fine performances of the cello works. So, take your pick.