Bach's writing for solo violin, as well as being one of the ultimate tests of a violinist's style and technique, remains unsurpassed in the unaccompanied violin repertoire. It is complex, intense and cerebral, yet simultaneously lyrical, spiritual and life-affirming. Like Hamlet, it is the world in miniature.
Initially, in the Sonata in g, for instance, Monica Hugget shows her outstanding Baroque credentials. Her tone is warm, with only a hint of vibrato, balanced by restraint and discipline. Player and instrument (a 1618 Antonius and Hieronymous Amati) seem perfectly in harmony. Intelligent and subtle variations of pace and accent prevent the music sounding dull or mechanical - despite the almost mathematically worked out intricacies of the first Partita, in d.
Unfortunately, the classic, almost definitive, account that this had promised to be is seriously undermined by playing which is just too mannered. In the Partita in b, chords are so grossly fractured that all momentum is irreparably lost. Worse, in the concluding Partita in E (in the seventh movement, Tempo di Borea), music that should be joyous and uncomplicated is subjected to variations in pace that are almost parody. Hugget is such a fine player you have to ask why her playing is so unusually attention-seeking at times, especially on CD2.
Despite its disappointing features, this double CD still offers good value in that CD1 is extremely distinguished and the price for both discs is closer to what you'd expect to pay for one. It is CD2 that is so anti-climactic, however. The closing work of the set, the Partita in E, is such a necessary counterbalance to the darker colours and moods of the first disc. For me, therefore, Sigiswald Kuiken's reading of these works (from 1983) is still out in front.