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Bach: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

4.8 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Product Description

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Genre: Classical Music
Media Format: Compact Disk
Rating:
Release Date: 15-FEB-1994

Amazon.com

Arthur Grumiaux was among the most elegant and refined violinists who ever recorded. This doesn't preclude his playing the famous Chaconne with lots of power, which he does. But it means hearing Bach with all technical difficulties minimized to give you a clear view of the music. Sometimes, as in Joseph Szigeti's late recordings (Vanguard Classics OVC 8021/2), there is a sense of struggle between the violin and the music that for more dramatic Bach. Grumiaux allows you to hear everything Bach put into the music, and it all sounds beautiful. --Leslie Gerber
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Product Details

  • Performer: Arthur Grumiaux
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (February 15, 1994)
  • SPARS Code: ADD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Philips
  • ASIN: B00000417N
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,081 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
The name Johann Sebastian Bach conjures up a multitude of musical vistas: Cantatas and oratorios, instrumental concerti, solo keyboard works, chamber music, and, ultimately, a handful of cornerstones of Western art: The B Minor Mass, The Well-Tempered Clavier, The Art of Fugue, the Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, and these Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. By these five works alone, Bach's place in history is assured. Not that he needs my vote, or opinion for that matter, to decide the issue.

Many words could be (and in fact have been) spilt over the issue of who are the best artists for Bach's solo instrumental works. For the keyboard works, it's often a case of "Glenn Gould vs. everyone else," and equally often, piano vs. harpsichord. For the cello suites, substitute Pablo Casals for Glenn Gould, and "never mind that Casals' approach wasn't `authentic'." Simply put, greatness is, well, greatness.

For these solo violin works, after having heard many great violinists - of both "authentic" and "modern" persuasion - play them, I always come back to this Arthur Grumiaux recording as being my favorite. Grumiaux was nothing if not an elegant violinist, and he had a superb Stradivarius for an instrument. But, if you are thinking that elegance is short for "sounds too smooth for me," rest assured that Grumiaux does not round off the edges of these works. This is a bravura performance of such technical virtuosity that it would be easy to believe Grumiaux to have been a Bach specialist (which he was not, having a far wider repertoire). He simply played these masterpieces in the way that he believed in them: that they do in fact represent "a cornerstone of Western art.
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The Bach solo violin works as performed by the late Arthur Grumiaux will absolutely stop you in your tracks, clear the nonsense from your poor overloaded brain, and deliver you to celestial simplicity. Not kidding ! Of course, these are some of the most indescribable works ever written and many good artists have delivered up their beauty, but, as you (over a few listenings) tune in to the perfect pitch, flawless finger work and the warm feeling in the delivery, holy smokes ! The Stradivarius which Belgian artist A. Grumiaux owned and recorded with must be one of the loveliest-sounding violins ever to grace the world of recorded music. As they used to write about Mr. Grumiaux: he put exactly the right touch on every note. This is some direct-current electricity for your whole system, and you may need to sit and injest this in small doses at first ! Its definitely not your ordinary background classical fare for lite chatter and soothing reveries; this is the intensely beautiful language of a powerfully creative and emotional man of the 1700's speaking directly to us. Many of the other A.G. works are just as tasty and are highly recommended.
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I caught my first glimpse (or I should say heard my first strain) of this recording in a somewhat serendipitous fashion: I had been searching through the then-mighty Napster for a good recording of the Bach G-minor Fugue, and was instantly struck by how great the violinist was in the file I managed to come upon. After some research, I discovered that it was Arthur Grumiaux, and I then wasted no time in getting the complete set of recordings.
Grumiaux's Bach is marvellous in sheer purity and vibrancy. He does not shy away from a contemporary rendition of these pieces, instead of encumbering himself with all-too-often artificial limitations of so called "performance practise". Instead, the violin literally rings like a bell when chords are played, while the line of the pieces is meticulously developed and maintained throughout (no mean feat, believe me).
It is hard to say which is the best recording of any piece, let alone something as frequently recorded as the Bach violin solo cycle, but this comes pretty darn close to such a title.
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These works are, for me, the highest possible achievement of violin music, and rank alongside the Cello Suites and the Well-Tempered Clavier as Bach's most meditative, introspective and spiritually profound works. They take you through a whole range of emotions and moods, and probably not coincidentally, like the Cello Suites, they end on a bright note, almost like the light of heaven shining down on you. Listening to the fugal movements is like being in a private cathedral of sound. And I say this without being a religious person in any way - this music is more personally spiritual, without being necessarily 'religious', like so many of Bach's vocal works.

I first heard these works performed by Menuhin (like Grumiaux, a student of Enescu), and though I retain a fondness for his recordings, I think Grumiaux's version is, all around, the best. I do agree with some of the other reviewers that Milstein can give a bit more passion, and I particularly like how the lower parts of the counterpoint are often more audible in Milstein (for instance, in the beginning bars of the D-Major section of the Chaconne - which is less accented in the Grumiaux), but I personally don't like Milstein's steely tone that much, and Bach sometimes sounds too much like hard work in his versions. In contrast, Grumiaux's tone is much warmer, I find, though he can put on the power very well whenever it's needed, and his playing is so effortless, one is able to really appreciate the beauty and profundity of Bach's works.

I'm very partial to period interpretations normally, and having now acquired Rachel Podger's recordings, I prefer those in many aspects; but on the whole, I find Grumiaux better than the other 'authentic' performance I've heard, that of Kuijken.
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