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Jonathan Woolf
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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin BWV1001-1006 (1720)
Georges Enesco (violin)
rec. 1948, New York
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR836-37 [61:59 + 68:16]

I think this set was made in New York in 1948 and not, as noted in the jewel case, 1949. In any case it’s very much a specialist acquisition given two unavoidable realities. Firstly, the recordings were very poorly engineered and second, Enesco had been in steady decline technically since the later 1930s. He had also been subject to serious physical strains, not least a stroke, and was later to become infirm. In the main, and even among specialists, I suspect that these recordings are more spoken of than actually listened to. Many will have been put off by both of the points noted above; few will have lasted the course even if they ventured into the acquisition of any of the restorations that have appeared over the last twenty years.
Philips issued their No-Noise effort in 1989 and it was a resounding failure. If anything it made the original LPs sound even worse than they were, which is something of a feat. Since then Japanese Philips has had a go, though I’ve not heard it, and there’s a Naxos download to be had - though again I’ve yet to hear it, and can’t venture a view on the transfer. Green Door is a Japanese company that has restored quite a number of historically significant violin material, and in addition to Enesco’s Bach, they’ve also - I’ll just mention this in passing - released two discs devoted to the art of Albert Spalding. You’ll probably need to go to search quite widely to see if they’re still available.
Forgotten Records emerges with its own transfer. The material is derived from three companies’ LPs; Continental and Remington, but also Olympic Records and Melodiya - in the last named, transferring just the opening Adagio, it seems, from Sonata No.1. Similarly an Electrecord LP [ECE0166] has been mined for two movements of the Third Partita and the Fugue (only) from Third Sonata. So source material varies - presumably because some of the other LPs utilised for transfer had suffered damage or were to be found in inferior transfers. I can only infer this, as there are no notes, as is normal for FR re-issues.
The transfers are streets ahead of the No-Noise Philips, as one would have hoped, but I can’t constructively compare and contrast any other of the already-cited transfers. Should you want to hear these lofty, noble, un-romanticised but deeply expressively wrought performances you can do so with a degree of confidence. You will find numerous imperfections, and you will find also, as with Enesco’s friend and colleague Jacques Thibaud’s last recordings and taped concerts, that intonation is often severely compromised. As with Thibaud, the wise listener will also hear marvels of phrasing and wisdom, a concrete conception of the sonatas and partitas which remains both laudable and fallible. Violinistically - specifically technically - these recordings represent a deep falling off from the standard of his pre-war Columbia 78s, but in terms of emotive engagement with the music, they embody a rich corpus of truths from one of the most complete musicians of the twentieth-century.
Jonathan Woolf