Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Frank Peter Zimmermann and Enrico Pace in Bach

The set of six sonatas and partitas that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for solo violin are well known, much played and recorded, and in the repertoire of every violinist of stature. The six sonatas for violin and keyboard BWV 1014-19 are less well known and less often played.With the solo works, the violinist does not share the spotlight with a pianist or an orchestra. With the duo sonatas, he or she has to play with a keyboard player, and play second fiddle much of the time, since the keyboard part is dominant in these works. Similarly, a keyboard player here has to share the limelight with a violinist.

I was intrigued last week when the BBC programme “Building a Library” picked Frank Peter Zimmermann and Enrico Pace as the top recommendation in the six duo sonatas; intrigued, since the BBC is usually ultra musically correct and follows fashions, and the Zimmermann-Pace set is with grand piano and non-baroque violin (a Stradivarius of roughly the same date as these sonatas).

I know these six sonatas pretty well, having played them often many decades ago when I lived in Germany (with an Australian pianist). I love the works, and really enjoyed the Zimmermann-Pace set. It is the only set I have without a harpsichord (an instrument to which I am not partial); to my ears, a harpsichord brings nothing to the works that one cannot have eight times more melodiously with a good pianist. There is music that is written for particular instruments, or instrumental combinations – most string quartets, for example, do not transfer to orchestral massed strings. Most of Bach's music outside the organ works does not seem to have been written with a particular instrumental colour or capability in mind; Bach rarely hesitated about borrowing his own, or other people's, works for different instrumental colours. Sitting back with J S Bach, Frank Peter Zimmermann and Enrico Pace, one is guaranteed an excellent 90 minutes or so of music. The recorded balance is correct for a change, with the piano being dominant, as the music requires. All the tempi sound fine to me, and the music has a strong element of dancing throughout.

It is regrettable that these duo sonatas are not better known. Within their 25 movements there are magnificent riches, and nothing is less than by a great composer. I love the solo violin works, but they do have their weaker sides: I have never felt that the three fugues are enjoyable and magnificent music (as opposed to major compositional and technical tours de force). The first partita can go on rather too long (especially as played a while ago by Lisa Batiashvili, who played deliberately and made every repeat it was possible to make – the piece lasted over half an hour. Milstein, when he played the first partita in public, wisely missed out all the repeats). And the final partita, after its brilliant prelude, can come over as everyday dance music of the early 18th century without too much originality.


Dr Henry Tegner said...

Glad I've found this blog. Thank you. In our retirement my wife and I are enjoying music even more. There seems to be a lot of it in Wiltshire, but we still go to London when we can to the various venues.

Harry Collier said...


Glad you have found things of interest. Do not hesitate to comment on anything -- I am pretty free with my opinions!