Sunday, 26 June 2016

Speedy Isabelle Faust

There is some truly wonderful violin playing on Isabelle Faust's 2009-11 recording of the unaccompanied violin sonatas and partitas of Johann Sebastian Bach. At times, one simply has to gasp in admiration, and I often regretted that, so far, Ms Faust does not seem to have recorded Paginini's Capricci. Her Strad here sounds beautiful, and Ms Faust does not miss a trick, or even a demi-semiquaver. The fast movements come off very well indeed – and the B minor partita that can often seem to go on for too long, gets a magnificent performance.

But, and it's a big but: some of the music is played simply too quickly. The fugues, the lovely andante of the A minor sonata, the largo of the C major sonata, as well as the Ciaccona – need to breathe. In practically every movement I looked at, Faust is faster even than Jascha Heifetz. The Ciaconna is dispatched in one long breath of 12'26; probably a world record. Make no mistake, there is some breathtaking violin playing on these two CDs; the well-known Preludio to the E major partita is full of fascinating light and shade. Ms Faust is no dumb high-speed virtuoso; she is a superb musician in all she does. It's just that some movements in this set are just too damn fast!

I have only once heard Isabelle Faust live, but I have many recordings by her, and practically everything she touches turns to gold. Two hours of wonderful violin playing here, and I sense I'll return to this set often; but I still need alternatives such as Heifetz, Milstein or Ibragimova for performances that allow the music to breathe and leave me admiring Bach, as well as the violinist.

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