JS BACH Solo Violin Partitas BWV1004-1006 (Bohren)
This is not ‘period’ solo Bach – the lingering lick of vibrato on the last note of the disc’s opening phrase, from the Allemande of the Second Partita, reveals that in a moment – but neither is it of the old-school kind, big-toned and intense. The Swiss violinist Sebastian Bohren is for the most part sparing with vibrato, preferring to rely on satin-smooth tone, clean texture and a pleasingly loose-limbed, almost nonchalant ease of movement. These can only be achieved with a high level of technical command, and that is certainly what Bohren has; at no point is there any sense of the difficulty of this music, of strain in meeting its daunting challenges to bow and fingers, not even in the Chaconne or the giant Fugue of the Third Sonata. Bohren, it appears, has mastery over them all.
It makes for solo Bach that is uncommonly easy on the ear; and, in faster and more motoric movements such as the Prelude of the Third Partita or the freewheeling final Allegro of the Third Sonata, its nimble precision can be exhilarating. It also allows him to deliver a languid Third Sonata Largo and some light-footed dances in the Third Partita, including a nicely loping Loure. In the Fugue, too, he is able to maintain a lyrical quality in the entries of the chorale-based subject, an objective he identifies in his booklet interview. What he does not do so successfully, however, is address the music’s rhetorical demands; where another player’s phrasing might bend, relax and tauten, Bohren’s is a little unvarying and lacking in imagination, making some of these movements edifices rather than living and breathing creations. That may be enough to send you elsewhere but even so there must be few recordings of these great pieces in which the beauty of the violin-playing can in itself give so much pleasure.