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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001 [16:14]
Partita No.1 in B minor, BWV 1002 [25:10]
Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003 [23:50]
Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [29:21]
Sonata No.3 in C major, BWV 1005 [24:02]
Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006 [18:45]
Miriam Fried (violin)
rec. 2016, The Jerusalem Music Center
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6351 [65:14 + 72:08]

It was not that long ago that the Romanian-born Israeli violinist and pedagogue Miriam Fried decided to take a year’s sabbatical-leave from her teaching post at the New England Conservatory in Boston. It became a fruitful period of study, exploration and reacquaintance with some old friends. The friends in question are the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. They have been an important part of the violinist’s life for sixty years. This is her second recording of them, the first recording was made in France in 1999 for the Lyrinx label. Approaching them again, with the benefit of many years’ experience and accumulated wisdom, she had important decisions to make - modern or period instruments? and stylistic choices such as tempo, dynamics and the use of vibrato.

I am instantly won over by Fried’s unfussy and unmannered approach to this sublime music. For a violinist in her seventh decade her technique shows no sign whatever of being on the wane, and the performances here are technically polished, with articulation incisive, double stops vibrant and intonation flawless throughout. Dance movements are light-footed, and slow movements are probing and suffused with poetic insights. The fugues are cleanly delineated, with double and triple stops smooth and well-negotiated. The mighty Chaconne comes in as noble and masterful an account as you’re ever likely to hear. The variations are stylistically characterized and, at the end when the noble theme returns, there’s a real sense of homecoming, fulfilment and inevitability.

Whether this particular cycle will be for you will depend on which side of the fence you sit on. Whilst many hanker for period performances, I much prefer solo Bach played on a modern instrument, with a modern bow and vibrato. So Fried’s approach I find immensely appealing. When I do, on the rare occasion, listen to period performances, the versions I turn to are by Rachel Podger and Sergiu Luca.

Fried is favoured with a bright, spacious acoustic, where her rich, resonant tone emerges strongly and clearly. She plays a 1718 Stradivarius, previously owned by Louis Spohr. The violinist shares her thoughts and insights on these “Himalayas of violinists”, as Georges Enescu eloquently referred to them, in her own enlightening accompanying annotations. My only regret is not having Fried’s Lyrinx set, now virtually impossible to obtain, so to offer a comparison.

Stephen Greenbank

 




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