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GRAMOPHONE (12/2015)
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Reviewer: Caroline Gill


A frustrating issue. Midori’s careful and polished addition to the extensive catalogue of recordings of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin should in many ways be one to buy with impunity. Certainly, the tone that underpins the faultless tuning is beautifully clear, added to which she brings an appealing ‘woodiness’ to her sound that is almost vocal in quality. Every note is meticulously placed, too – fitting easily into the musical structure that immediately surrounds it. Yet there is so much pulling about of the tempi and disconcerting reversal of arpeggios that one can struggle to follow any of the melodies that should be apparent at any given moment. This in turn ultimately undermines the grander structure of the pieces – and the collection as a whole – and creates a performance that is largely concentrated on only one element at any one time.


Sometimes the pulse is perfect, with a strong sense of the dance that should be in every movement (the Preludio of the E major Partita). Or the tempo is exactly right (the Fuga of the Sonata in G minor, for example). Or there is a strong sense of where the harmony is going (as in the Adagio of the Sonata in C major). But never do all three of those elements come together at the same time to allow the power in this music to be unleashed.


Take the mighty Chaconne of the D minor Partita (the litmus test for any recording): here the performance is particularly perplexing. There is little sense of the constant pulse of triple time – making it a Sarabande in all but name – that runs through it. As a product of Midori’s rubato, rather than the note values that Bach wrote into the music, the tempi are constantly ebbing and flowing. The result is that the music is somewhat under siege rather than subject to the sort of non-prescriptive interpretation that will allow the listener to find his or her own way through it.


A couple of considerable slips that border on mistakes (in particular some uncontrolled skipping over the strings at the end of the Fuga of the Sonata in G minor) indicate long takes that have been left to stand due to their evident musical integrity. They stitch a warmth and humanity on to the surface of a performance that otherwise displays a certain untouchable beauty and hauteur. Although its recommendations on paper are manifold, to go straight from this to the elegant, warm recordings of Isabelle Faust or Christoph Poppen’s fleetness and raw vibrancy is to apprehend immediately how much that type of musical aloofness can create a barrier between listener and music.

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