on 20 May 2010
I have heard them all, I know them by heart, I play them myself (and mostly for myself). For the last 20 years I've had my periods where the favorite has changed from Jaap Schroeder to Gidon Kremer, or from Nathan Milstein to Helene Schmitt, just to mention a few. All have something, although some have a tendency to follow the 'standard' readings (perhaps not Helene's). From each I could signal something special, although there is always a 'but'. I prefer it when the reading is more personal, as this is what I look for from an artist-interpret. I also look for when there is some respect to what Bach actually wrote, with the articulations and bowings, phrasings when known, altough I am not purist.
When I bought the Mullova discs, I was quite won by the honesty that she shows in her comments in the booklet included, when she explains how she got to rediscover these works from the conservatoire approach to the actual reading she does in the set. It's obvious that she has re-worked them very thoroughly. In the occasions where a interpreter decision is expected (choice of bariolage, chords, accents, tempi, ornamentation, bowing and articulations), in my opinion she always seems to take the right one.
With the Partitas, she takes seriously the dancing motto (except for preludios and allemandas that were not really to be danced) and plays them in such a manner that you could actually dance them. With the Sonatas, however, the approach is more inward-looking and she concentrates in getting the inner poetry out into life. And she succeeds.
With her, you always have the impression that the music is going somewhere. And with her conviction and sound, she takes you there.
Thanks very much. I think this is wonderful.
on 9 November 2009
Viktoria Mullova shows great courage in playing this music differently to everyone else. In her notes she says she has found a way to play this music in a more straightforward way. I think this has led a lot of reviewers to underrate the performances, as they do not sound as effortful as usual. I feel that she has found a deep understanding of the flow of these sublime pieces and uses unusual but appropriate tempi. The music flows beautifully with a serene intensity.
I recently bought the new Alina Ibragimova set on hyperion. She uses more traditional tempi but her technique is so majestic that the music really flows. Her performance has more "light and shade" than mullova with some hushed playing which really draws you in. Needs to be played on a good music system. On balance, I prefer mullova for repeated listening, but having both is ideal.
In the past I have owned sets by Rachel Podger (good), menuhin (early version good) Szeryng (later dg version is good), sitkovetsky (good).
on 17 November 2014
I already had the previous version of the Bach partitas Viktoria Mullova. 'm truly happy to have bought this full version. However, although the Mullova same state that since the first recording of the Bach partitas there has been considerable progress, I personally prefer the 1994 version. I am a lover of Bach and in my desert island, about this, I would bring with me the first recording (in mono) of Szeryng. I love Nathan Milstein, Shlomo Mintz, Rachel Podger, and Gidon Kremer. But soon after Szeryng comes Viktoria Mullova, and the sound in Mullova's recording is better. Five stars!
on 23 June 2013
This is a magisterial, totally secure and deeply musical version of these great works. Very few violinists match Mullova here. One is Isabelle Faust, who is wonderful. You can make a case for Szeryng, and Gimpel and Madroszkiewicz are both good in their ways. But this is about as good as it gets.
on 11 October 2009
I have only been listening to nine different recordings of these works, so I am in fact a complete novice in the field (and no musicologist at all), all the same I will try to give short comments on these nine interpretations that just might help you to choose which set you want to buy.
My personal favourite is no doubt John Holloway's recording (on ECM). When I first heard it I had only been listening to Shlomo Mintz (on DG) and Hilary Hahn (on Sony), so I feared the great Ciaccona/Chaconne of BWV 1004, because both of those artists' interpretations of that movement sounded like musical warfare, full of shrieks and noises. But Hallelujah! Guess what happened? The movement made sense to me for the first time - in Holloway's hands it is actually music! And the rest of the set also sparkles in Holloway's recording. What is so special about Holloway's version is that it has an almost spiritual, metaphysical aspect to it that nobody else achieves. It is a recording full of sublime transcendental beauty. That aspect of course is emphasized by the wonderful church acoustics (another great Manfred Eicher production from ECM). The booklet contains a performer's note and a few facsimile pages of Bach's beautiful handwritten score. If you are looking for just one recording, you don't really have to read further - I recommend that you buy Holloway's set.
If you have not bought Holloway's set yet, I have to say a little more about Mintz and Hahn: The aggressive approach in Mintz' Ciaccona/Chaconne is more or less present throughout Mintz' recording and in my opinion his playing does not quite justify it - it is "agitated" without having a reason to be so. If you want the sort of expressive power which Mintz is trying to put into these works Nathan Milstein (on DG) is a better option. The problem with Hahn is that you are more impressed than moved; she plays fast - some might even say that she is superficial and skates over the essentials. Hahn also has a tendency to romanticize in the slow movements. Besides it is not a complete recording, she only plays half the works (BWV 1004, 1005 and 1006). However, her version of BWV 1006 is probably my favourite because of its exquisite, exuberant brilliance that fits that partita well.
Sigiswald Kuijken (on DHM) is almost as good as Holloway and he almost reaches Holloway's metaphysical heights, but his Ciaccona/Chaconne is not entirely perfect, it sounds like separate movements put together rather than as a whole. The performance has rougher edges than Holloway's, which can be a good thing.
Viktoria Mullova (on Onyx) and Rachel Podger (on Channel) are more down to earth than Holloway, but they both play beautifully. Maybe Podger is a somewhat overrated performer of Bach's music for solo violin. Her recording has been praised by numerous critics and it is so beautiful that I would like to like it more, but isn't it just a little bit boring? I am listening to it right now and again I get this sort of feeling: "Yes, it is beautiful, but why am I listening to it?" That question answers itself when I listen to Holloway or Kuijken. With Kuijken and Holloway playing the music explains itself, it says: "I will just explain how this sounds." If you are looking for clarity and serenity choose Mullova. Make sure you buy the new Onyx set not the old Philips release!
If you want the slow movements played slow and the rest played beautifully by a young talented violinist Julia Fischer (on Pentatone) should be your choice.
Henryk Szeryng's first recording (on Sony) from 1955 is very serious and intense, a haunting (but also demanding) experience. Szeryng later made another recording for DG but I have not heard it (yet). Of course you should expect less than perfect sound on a recording that is more than fifty years old.
Mullova, Kuijken, Podger and Holloway play period instruments.
Szeryng, Mintz, Milstein, Hahn and Fischer play modern instruments.
on 30 January 2013
I borrowed this recording on the off-chance from the library. I had never heard of Viktoria Mullova. I sat up straight and wide-eyed as soon as she began to play, Never have I heard such beautiful and moving violin playing, Sometimes it sounds like three instruments. The bowing, the phrasing, the clarity of the voices, the harmonies and the dynamics make the Bach Sonatas so transparently accessible that listening to them brings me to complete stillness and sometimes to tears. I bought my own copy (well, I asked for it as a Christmas present) and I've given two more copies as gifts. But the real gift is Viktoria Mullova's playing. If you like Bach, you will love this!
on 23 May 2009
The Bach sonatas are an ultimate challenge of musicality for the violinist. They are densely figured, deep meditations which require intelligence and restraint to reveal themselves. Mullova using the gutstrings and baroque bow plays them as Bach would have rejoiced to hear them. This is a profoundly satisfying recording.