I’ve been fishing in Twentieth-century five-★ waters of late, so let’s cast our eyes back on music written by dead guys. There have been a few classical works that I’ve heard one artist play, then never bothered to take the time to listen to anyone else’s take. For example, Gidon Kremer’s 1980 recording of the Violin Sonatas and Partitas by J.S. Bach. This might be a tough sell: two hours of music containing no notes much below middle C, and no more than two notes ever played at the same time. And Kremer is all about Truth not Beauty, which is to say he doesn’t sugar-coat Bach’s rough edges. But I think that truth is beauty, and I think that this music has so much of both that you really ought to sit down sometime and listen to all of it. Well, and it sounds good. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.)
The Music · I just don’t know what to say. Listen to the first few seconds, and you’ll know right away whether this is going to become an permanent part of your mental landscape, or whether it’s just a screechy fiddle playing way too many notes that don’t seem to go anywhere.
I’d it it to my personal list of things to be considered in evidence as to why Homo Sapiens should be considered, on balance, a Good Thing for the universe to include.
If there’s a Greatest Hit in here, it’s the Preludio from Partita 3, BWV 1006; which has been quoted and re-used enough times to enter the racial memory. I don’t think it’s the best track. I’d tell you what I do think is the best but that’d be irrelevant, because every time I put this CD on I end up listening to both disks, end-to-end. It’s great-in-the-whole, great enough that singling out one part or another would be irrelevant.
Sampling It · As Wikipedia notes, there are a whole lot of recordings, by basically every violinist you’ve ever heard of. I’ve listened to a couple of others but none have won my heart away from Kremer’s 1980 take; I’ve always thought the sound had a bit too much echo, but still, there’s very little between you and the fiddle, which is as it should be. Two things should be noted: this music leaves so much room for the interpreter’s soul that it would be really unsurprising if you liked it, but preferred another recording. Second, in researching this article I discovered that Kremer took another run at the material in 2002, on ECM New Series 1926 (more discussion here). Since ECM is one of my favorite music shops, I think I’m just gonna have to pick that one up too.
You can listen to samples of both at Amazon. This isn’t about downloading, it’s about buying shiny silver round things and listening to them late at night with the lights out.