Bach Solo Violin Sonatas & Partitas
Gerard Poulet is not the most showy violinist – he may not have Sitkovetsky’s uncanny control, or Kagan’s sumptuous tone, but one immediately feels confident that he’s in command, both technically and musically. He chooses consistently brisk or flowing tempos, but never sounds hurried, because his playing has such rhythmic poise, and because he takes such care in moulding each phrase. It’s in the dance movements of the Partitas that he’s most decisively to be preferred; heard after Poulet, both Kagan and Sitkovetsky tend to sound dull and heavy. Poulet is not trying to imitate a baroque violinist, though – he produces a full sound and uses plenty of vibrato, but by lightening the unimportant notes in a phrase he succeeds in bringing the details of the music to life. And, alone of these three violinists, his playing of the trills and other ornaments is stylistically convincing.
In the three Sonatas the grandeur of the opening slow movements isn’t compromised by the more flowing speeds. Indeed, the polyphonic Adagio of the Third Sonata sounds, I think, more magnificent as we’re drawn into the powerful harmonic movement. And the rhythmic verve of Poulet’s playing of the fugues similarly helps the grand designs of these movements to emerge audibly.
I do sense in Poulet a reluctance to play really quietly. He doesn’t perhaps need to use anything like the magical flautando playing that Kagan introduces to offset his otherwise intensely projected style, because there’s enough natural light and shade in his performance, but the echo effects in the finale of the A minor Sonata could certainly have been made more decisively. There are other idiosyncrasies, too. Poulet adheres to the bad old practice of playing a chord for each note at the start of the chaconne, contrary to Bach’s notation, and in the A minor fugue he goes to uncomfortable lengths to sustain some of the written note-values.
These are small matters though; this is clearly a highly recommendable set. The recorded sound of the violin is warm and full, though perhaps a little over-resonant.'