Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Gregory Fulkerson plays Bach

A good friend (Lee) kindly sent me a two CD set of someone called Gregory Fulkerson playing the Bach solo sonatas and partitas. In top position I already have many other sets, including Heifetz, Milstein, Lara St. John and Alina Ibragimova (the current favourites) not to mention Oscar Shumsky, Arthur Grumiaux and several others. Abandoned and given away were many other sets, including Rachel Podger, Johanna Martzy and Julia Fischer. So I approached Mr Fulkerson without too many hopes, nor too much enthusiasm.

But my affection mounted quickly. This is fine Bach playing. Fulkerson does not indulge in fashionable “authentic” antics. He hits what I consider to be the “right” tempo for each movement. He never dawdles. He varies his dynamics. He is technically fearless. He does not sound heavy and over-reverential (a frequent mistake by those who play these works). He does not milk his violin sound for all it is worth. So I like him very much, and the four favourites above become five. The B minor Partita is, for me, the weakest of the set of six works; it can often seem to be over-long, and any violinist who can sustain my interest for the full 30 minutes gets my accolade. Fulkerson manages it well, with swift tempi and varied dynamics.

Apparently Fulkerson was much liked by “the critics”, which really put me off, since I have learned over the decades that music critics are highly fallible beasts, subject to all kinds of bias: they rarely agree with each other; they are subject to editorial whims concerning favouring advertisers; they are invited to the entertainment circus by managers and PR people, given exclusive interviews with artists, plied with free tickets; they are subject to current fashions; they usually favour the “Home Town Boy, or Girl” and the performer who is “famous” in their neck of the woods. I have frequently been led astray by over-enthusiastic critics, the first time being when I was around 15 and a friend asked me for a recommendation for a set of the Brahms symphonies. I reported the ecstatic Gramophone review of the Adrian Boult set (Pye Nixa) without realising that the reviewer, Trevor Harvey, was a Boult acolyte and worshipped the conductor. My friend bought the set and was considerably put out to discover that the recorded sound was truly awful; my reputation sank on the spot. Of the current commercial reviews, I listen particularly to the American Record Guide, that does not accept advertising and has many reviewers who are not afraid to be unfashionable, nor to say exactly what they think. The Gramophone has probably the least reliable reviewers; highly parochial and with all kinds of bias towards advertisers and favourites such as Simon Rattle, Rachel Podger, Tasmin Little or John Eliot Gardiner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

His Ives cycle is revelatory: he really understands mania (and I mean that as a compliment)