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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
Bach: Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on October 28, 2017
Arthur Grumiaux recorded this set many years ago - I still have the Lps - and the Cd transfer does a pretty good job at capturing most of the delicacy and tonal characteristics of the original album. Given the general consensus on the quality of this now legendary recording I'll simply make a few observations from having known these performances for now over half a century.
One thing distinguishing the Cd from the vinyl is a greater top and bottom - attacks are more incisive, even a bit harsh compared to the early recording sound. This gives the music - and Grumiaux's playing - a more assertive quality that personally I find wearying. This may be I'm just getting too old and tired to concentrate! However, the other aspect that's changed for me is how even more complex and demanding is this music. It's only become more mysterious and out of reach.
It baffles me now that anyone could take in more than a few selections without needing a break. Bach is working at a level of complexity far beyond my humdrum musical intelligence, and Grumiaux - and other soloists who tackle these works - leave me in awe before their realizations.
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on February 10, 2018
Arthur Grumiaux's playing is superb. There are sections in some of the runs where I feel he gets a little too legato in his style, but there's no doubt that the playing is excellent, and that's just a quibble. The one thing I DON'T like, however, is that there's a lot of reverb in the recording. I don't know if they recorded this in a giant, empty hall, or if the reverb was added later, but it muddies the music to some degree for me, and makes it sound a little less intimate. Reverb like that hides issues with intonation a lot, so I know it's somewhat common, but with Grumiaux's artistry, I don't think it's necessary as much as a choice to make it sound a bit airy. I am not a fan. I far prefer Henryk Szeryng's recording without any additional reverb effects, as you're able to hear every little detail of the sound, from the occasional top plate resonant harmonic to the shifting. It makes it sound more... real. Grumiaux plays this so beautifully, it's a shame it's almost covered up by the echo.
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on April 20, 2015
The Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, is just about my favorite Classical music to listen to--anywhere, anytime, I can just get lost in this music and whenever I need some soul lifting, or peace or just an escape from the real world; these fascinating works just take me away. Some reviews make it sound like this is kind of boring after a while, and it can become heavy, but never boring, not to my ears. I love Bach (and Vivaldi), and I feel this is one of the essential violin masterpieces you can buy.
I'm not really knowledgeable in classic violin and I have no idea who is the best violinist in the Universe, but I know what I like, and I like this a whole lot. I have listened to several other artist play these same pieces, and I have been spoiled by, Arthur Grumiaux. He weaves, and sings, and soars, sometimes hanging by a thread, but he has a way of bringing it all together and it gives me a thrill to listen. Ah, Bach! I still wonder it there is really only one person playing on some of these, I know he is playing solo, really (and I am always amazed by that.)
I feel the recording itself is just top quality, I mean the sound quality comes dancing through my speakers and it just sounds heavenly. It sounds like it was recorded in a church......I like that!
Well, these are my reasons for recommending this performance, I hope you'll try it and love it as much as I do. I think this is the recording Bach, would like best, also...........really!
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on November 9, 2011
** A note on concurrent releases: This Philips "Duo" release dates from 1993 and was superseded first by the Philips 50 remastering in 2001, then again by the Decca "Originals" re-packaging of that same material in 2006. The remastered releases contain two sonatas for violin and harpsichord in which Grumiaux is accompanied by Egida Giordani Sartori. These recordings predate those contained in the "Duo" release of the complete Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord with Christiane Jaccottet from 1979-1981. Having carefully compared the two remasterings of the solo works, I will say that any audible differences are VERY subtle. I don't doubt that the 96 kHz 24-bit remastering is technically superior, but whether your ears will detect the difference is another matter. The bottom line is that the sound is very good in both releases, with the same level of noise and artifacts. The liner notes are also identical between the Decca and Philips Duo releases, so the only significant difference is the addition of the sonatas for violin and harpsichord in the more recent remastering. **

In a sense it counter-intuitive that Arthur Grumiaux's recordings of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin are considered a reference - his approach employs straightforward phrasing with moderate tempos and a minimum of romanticising. In short, it's a middle of the road interpretation. But even after exploring many other well-regarded recordings (Szigeti, Heifetz, Milstein, Suk, Szeryng, Shumsky, Perlman, Tetzlaff, Ehnes and Holloway) I find myself returning to these performances. Ultimately what makes them so satisfying to me is Grumiaux's distinctive singing tone, elegant style, sense of rhythm, thoughtful accents, and technical ease. The fugues in particular rarely sound so smooth and effortless, and the slow movements really sing. The faster movements are not taken at lightning speed but are instead lavished with accents that clarify harmonic and rhythmic groupings, making more sense of the music than most. In short, the extremely high level of artistry brings Bach's music to life while taking a minimum of liberties with the interpretation. For this reason Grumiaux serves as a kind of "baseline" Bach that is ideal if you are considering a first recording of these works. Milstein's recordings on EMI and DG are also often cited as a benchmarks in the sonatas and partitas. It is interesting to compare the two artists because they are largely complementary. Whereas Grumiaux takes a conservative approach to interpretation but impresses with his intelligent and elegant playing, Milstein takes a more personal and spontaneous approach to the interpretation and plays brilliantly (particularly in the earlier EMI set) though without Grumiaux's sterling tone. Both artists are essential listening. From the digital era I would recommend hearing Christian Tetzlaff and James Ehnes as well.

The recording quality is impressive given the vintage (1960-61). Crystal clear with a moderate amount of reverb, one might quibble about a slight metallic quality that robs the sound of some warmth, but it competes well among analog alternatives. As is typical with the Philips Duo releases, the liner notes are brief but informative regarding the music and the discs come in a quality jewel case.

In the end, no matter how much I try to describe what is special about Grumiaux's Sonatas and Partitas I feel like I am selling him short. There is something indefinable about Grumiaux's playing that makes me want to keep listening, over and over. Very highly recommended.
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on December 15, 2014
Some say the Partitas for solo violin are Bach's supreme achievement, and they may be right. There is nothing comparable to Grumiaux's beautiful treatment of these works. The simplest, scale-like passages take on a life of their own with his attention to variations of dynamics and phrasing. The playing demands listening to a creation that rewards the listener with what can only be described as a glimpse beyond the Veil.
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on June 17, 2004
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.
27 people found this helpful
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on August 21, 2004
I've been listening to this set for over 8 months and never tire of it. Grumiaux's Bach is clean, clear, each note carefully articulated. Everything is under control, and there is never a screech or scratch. Even with the multi-chords every note rings out, and never causes you to wince like some other recordings where they pressed too hard.

I believe this is the best recording for learning to play because you can easily follow with the music as you listen along. Maybe some think this recording is too technical, as Grumiaux keeps to the tempo, and keeps to the purity of the music as written. But the sheer beauty of Bach comes through, uncluttered by excessive pathos on the part of the player. That's why I can listen to it for hours without tiring of it. Very refreshing, I think you'll be delighted with this recording.
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on October 27, 2014
It's hard to believe you can get that much sound, expression, and feeling from four strings and a bow. As if the player was so moved to express himself that he grew a pair of wings. Flawless.
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on February 22, 2015
Outstanding - best solo violin of Bach! The articulation is lively and the recording is crisp with nice upper frequencies. Manages to sound like an idealized Sherlock Holmesian Bach-violin. Especially Solo no 1 in Gmin
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on September 5, 2017
As advertised.
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