Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Kristof Barati plays Bach

Technically, the six unaccompanied sonatas and partitas of J.S. Bach are not too difficult to play for the modern generation of professional players. Every violinist has a go at them – even I, in my youth, though missing out the fugues and the chaconne which are a bit hairy for amateur players. As usual with Bach performances, the music does not take kindly to layers of “interpretation”, added schmaltz or exaggerated swooning. The music needs technical accuracy, it needs rhythmic stability, it needs sensible tempi with no violent vivaces nor lachrymose andantes. It needs subtle variations in colour and dynamics to avoid monotony; it needs an appreciation of baroque style. Get all that together, and the sonatas and partitas are a pleasure to listen to.

Frequent stumbling blocks from players are lack of violinistic colour, sluggish tempi, lack of contrast. The music does not take kindly to what I term the “Juilliard / DeLay” sound with its emphasis on even tone production and seamless bow strokes. Eminent violinists such as Perlman, Julia Fischer and Johanna Martzy fall by the wayside through lack of tonal variety. The worst performance I ever heard was one Sunday in Blenheim Palace near Oxford where Alfredo Campoli took over from an indisposed Yehudi Menuhin. Beautiful playing, but stupifying after ten minutes.

Latest candidate on my turntable to tackle the six works is the youngish Hungarian, Kristof Barati, playing an attractive sounding Strad. Mr Barati gets my thumbs up. He may not be a well-known player (I had never heard of him until recently) but he is technically superb, stylistically aware, and plays with attractive variations of tone and dynamics and tempi that are fleet of foot (without being too fleet). And no pseudo-museum playing, just playing that is stylistically aware. A pleasure to listen to, and highly recommended.

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