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Johann Sebastien Bach
Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
Alina Ibragimova, violin
Review By Evan Shinners

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  Every reader has bookshelves. Within these shelves are books often read, books often neglected, books newly purchased and waiting to be read, and inherited books centuries old and never once read. Yet every reader usually has a dictionary somewhere within the bookshelves, and this dictionary has been used throughout the career of the reader from the beginning of his or her career, and will continue to be used until the reader is finished reading.

For the world of art, different artists have different dictionaries: American poets have Leaves of Grass, flute players have a thick treatise by Quantz, painters have books of Rembrandt's illustrated sketches, electric guitar players have records of Chuck Berry, and classical violinists have the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.

In the life of a violinist, these three sonatas and three partitas represent the beginning and end of the violin: the heights of expression, the depths of technique, and possibly the only successful attempt in music to condense the entire scope of human emotion into one piece on the four-stringed instrument, the great "Ciaccona," ("Chaconne"). A piece which takes a stolid "Sarabande" in d minor and winds the material tighter and tighter -- the strands of passion taking blazing finger work and string crossings on the fiddle until finally it can go no further -- and where there normally would be an explosion, a heavenly D major chorale emerges. This piece alone could sum up violin playing until the twentieth century, for it covers every aspect of violin playing known in and after Bach's time.

A letter from Johannes Brahms to Clara Schumann conveys what emotion lies in this single movement, “...for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

Virtyally every famous violinist, past and present, has taken on the test of recording these works. It is now Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova's turn.

In keeping with the current trend of attempting to preserve the composer's intentions, and playing more in the baroque style, Ibragimova for the most part uses no vibrato, keeping the strokes very thin. In the lively movements her rhythms sit on the back of the beat, preventing the music from lilting forward as baroque music often should. While she occasionally produces beautiful sounds in the lower register, I have particular complaints against her "Chaconne," as it simply lacks intensity. Nearly the same tempo as Heifetz, Alina's recording lacks forward drive. Though Ibragimova may be more "stylistically correct," does anyone care? In an age when Uri Caine can successfully convey the Goldberg Variations with machines and coughing, what should we care about preserving the Baroque style? I say that only half-heartedly, for learning a particular style is important and at times even relevant, but not when it comes at the expense of the music's internal excitement.

The recording quality is clear and preserves what Ibragimova intended. Hyperion never has problems in this department.

If you are just entering these pieces, you are in for a world of discovery. I would suggest the great recordings of Szeryng or the unique recordings of Heitetz. For those who wish to learn about the baroque style in a new recording without losing the excitement, try Monica Huggett. For those wishing to find a new violinist, keep an eye on Arnaud Sussmann, a young French violinist with intensity. No matter how long you stay in the world of the solo Bach violin music, you will always learn something more; much like if you open your dictionary you will find a new word.





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