on 2 November 2006
A truly marvellous interpretation of Bach's masterpiece for solo violin. Whether one is a fan of the "baroque sound" or not, one cannot ignore the sheer quality of this recording in which Kuijken delivers a deliciously pure and detailed sound with impeccable timing and flawless intonation. The tones are deep and warm with minimal vibrato but incredible "body" - which may (in my opinion) have something to do with the way Kuijken holds the instrument (Italian, built around 1700 and readjusted back to baroque specification) - not touching the chin and without support attachments of any kind, allowing it to resonate that much more freely.
The spacious, reverberant setting of this recording is a matter of preference - some will prefer a "drier" ambience, but to my ears this is a remarkable performance of which the great JSB himself would no doubt be proud! Highly recommended.
At present, I have three versions of these ground-breaking works played by undisputed masters of the violin, but this is the only one that gives real satisfaction. The recording by Monica Huggett, although fine in parts, is undermined by excessive mannerism, while that by Thomas Zehetmair, despite the brilliance and energy of his prestissimo playing, seems to be more Romantic than Baroque in execution.
Although a 1981 recording, digitally remastered in 1987, this one is the best of the bunch for overall consistency and fidelity to both the note and spirit of the original conception. Sigiswald Kuijken is unfailingly precise in his intonation in pieces which test the soloist's technique to the hilt, with extended passages of double-stopping producing rich textures and sonorities suggestive of ensemble playing. Nowhere, perhaps, is his technique more impressive than in the Ciaconna of the Partita in d.
Kuijken's tone will not suit all tastes, however. Firstly, his violin (by Giovanni Grancino of Milan, c1700) is not the most dulcet. Secondly, Kuijken's playing is distinctly 'cool', with minimum vibrato. While I prefer these authentically Baroque colours to Zehetmair's (at very much the warmer end of the sound spectrum), many may find Kuijken too austere.
While this recording is a good deal more expensive than the other two discussed here (I paid around £20 for my copy a few years ago), such magnificent works as these deserve to be heard in various guises. And if it is a 'pure' Baroque sound you're after, this may well represent the end of your search.