This inexpensive account of the inexhaustible treasures that are the sonatas and partitas for solo violin by J S Bach will stand comparison with any other available version. Milstein brings vigour and drama to the works, while remaining completely at the service of the music. The sound quality is excellent for the age of the recording.
I already had Milstein's recording of the Mendelssohn, Bruch and Tchaikovsky concertos and was looking to buy a recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. I had heard alot of good things about his Bach recordings and after having been blown away by his Mendelssohn, decided to go for this recording. Nothing could have possibly prepared me for what can only be described as some of the most breathtaking performances I have ever heard. This man deserves so much more recognition than he currently gets. He puts the music first in these recordings, like he always did, with none of the egotistical interpretations that many of the other great violinists seem to display. He plays them with an immense amount of passion and love for the music, portraying the religious contemplation and power in Bach's works, while maintaining an amazingly natural technique that, in my opinion, is the closest a violinist will probably ever get to perfection. There is not one mediocre movement on this CD and I have yet to hear a recording that even comes close to matching it. Every track is a gem but to name a few highlights, the Fugue in the G minor sonata is nothing short of incredible, whilst the Borea and Double in the B minor partita make you want to practise alot more! The chaccone in the D minor partita is out this world and the Preludio to the E major partita is seamless. I cannot find one critisism with this performance! The sound is excellent and you will not find any ridiculous cuts on these Discs as Milstein was a fanatic about continuity and so when he had to do any retakes (which i wouldn't imagine was very often!) he would go back to the start of the movement or from a repeat instead of begining halfway through phrases. You cannot go wrong with this disc! The violin at it's most sublime.
Awarded the "Cross of Honor" by the Austrian Ministry of Culture, with similar decorations from Italy and Belgium and an Officer of the French Legion of Honor, there is no doubting Milstein's status as a Legendary Musician. There are 2 pressings of this by Deutsche Grammophone (DGG). This is the second remastered pressing slightly crisper with higher / hotter levels but arguably less warm than the original 2 CD set published by DGG with the Pink Cover. If the first is warmer, it also has a little hiss, so hey, get whichever you can because this playing is unsurpassed... I have been listening to this specific recording for 42 years, since I was 10 years old. It may even be responsible for my becoming a Professional Violinist. Milstein recorded an earlier set for EMI, technically very polished and youthful in spirit, but he preferred this more mature and imaginative (read more fluid and less regimental) set, recorded when he was 60... and so do I. While Milstein, Grumiaux and Szeryng left monumental accounts of these Sonatas and Partitas at around the same time, there have been many good recordings since. However, I always go back to Milstein's to find a majestic depth, lyrical repose, masculine boldness, and purity of sound and interpretation. It's as if Milstein shapes Bach's music and the noble sound of his 1716 "Maria Teresa" Stradivarius into Greek statues! Recommended without reservation. My dream is one day to find a high definition / resolution remastering of this 1975 (published) set. I hope my reader has gained a little more insight and background to this highly expressive recording. Happy listening!
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.
I've had this recording on vinyl since I was a budding violinist. It wore out. No-one, and I really mean no-one, has played these are well as Milnstein. He really was a Bach specialist. Everyone else sounds a bit mechanical after listening to these.
If you like Bach or are a violinist this should be in your "must listen" list.
Ich habe mehr als 15 Einspielungen der Solo-Violinwerke Bachs im Regal, kenne sie alle - und höre fast immer diese Aufnahme von Milstein. Sie hat eine "Aura" von Nobilität, souveräner Abgeklärtheit und künstlerischer Integrität, fern jeder zur Schau gestellten Virtuosität, fern jedes Bemühens um Klangschönheit um ihrer selbst willen, fern auch jedes aufgesetzten Pathos. Dadurch berührt mich diese Aufnahme immer wieder zutiefst. Von Milstein gibt es zudem eine ältere Aufnahme (EMI; ebenfalls hervorragend, freilich fehlt die "Altersweisheit", die bei der DG-Aufnahme möglicherweise zu der besonderen Aura beiträgt).
Natürlich kann man auch mit anderen Aufnahmen glücklich werden: Grumiaux (Philips; souverän, besonders klangschön, dabei durchaus tiefsinnig), Szeryng (DG; souverän, etwas pathetischer als Milstein), Kremer (2. Aufnahme bei ECM: faszinierend eigenwillig), Mintz (DG; souverän und unaufgeregt, insofern Milstein nicht unähnlich), Tetzlaff (er hat - mit verschiedenen Geigen - zwei Aufnahmen vorgelegt bei [1.] Virgin und [2.] Hänssler; nach meinem Empfinden spielt er Milstein am ähnlichsten, besonders in der älteren Aufnahme). Für eine "historisch informierte" Aufnahme greife ich zu Rachel Podger (Channel Classics; unaufgeregt, gefällig).
Große Meister, die man mal hören sollte: Szigeti (Vanguard) und der junge Menuhin (EMI).
Große Meister, die mich weniger berühren: Heifetz (RCA; zur Schau gestellte Virtuosität) und Perlmann (EMI; zur Schau gestellte Klangschönheit) - eine Geschmacksfrage!
Eine Ausnahmestellung hat Ida Händel (Testament); ihre Interpretation ist besonders langsam und breit angelegt - durchaus faszinierend.