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Pavlo Beznosiuk - Bach Sonatas and Partitas - International Record Review

07 April 2011
International Record Review
Michael Jameson

Pavlo Beznosiuk's authenticist credentials hardly need rehearsing again here. For more than a quarter of a century, his work as concertmaster and director with several major period-instrument ensembles (including The Parley of Instruments, the New London Consort and the Academy of Ancient Music) has cemented his reputation as one of the leading Baroque violinists of our times. With this superb two-disc set from Linn Records, he now surmounts Bach's Olympian cycle of Six Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin, in powerfully argued readings which endlessly fascinate but (depending on your individual take on these works) will occasionally perplex, too.

The caveat demands some qualification. Mahler once remarked that the fastest allowable tempo for any piece of music was that which enables all the notes to register clearly in the ear. That Beznosiuk clearly understands this dictum is witnessed by the sometimes surprisingly measured tempos he adopts throughout these performances, a feature nowhere more evident than in the Fugues of the three Sonatas.

Take, for example, the C major Sonata's extended and ingenious Fugue, after the great Chaconne of the D minor Partita, the longest single movement in this cycle. Here, the pay-off is sensed in the exacting clarity with which Beznosiuk lays bare the contrapuntal sinews of this music, much as Rembrandt's anatomist Dr Tulp reveals the structure of the cadaver spread before him to his astonished students. This playing seems beyond reproach, with faultless intonation and bow control, all of which ensures that Beznosiuk's sharply defined voicing of each fugal reference, especially when inverted amidst multiple-stopped chording later on, is always convincingly managed.

In the labyrinthine Chaconne of the D minor Partita (the touchstone by which any Bach violin cycle must be in large measure appraised), Beznosiuk's overall timing of 13'23'' again allows the music to acquire the gravitas it needs through immutable motivic progression, yet without ever feeling slow or under-powered. Here, comparison with Sigiswald Kuijken's 1981 account (his 1999-2000 Deutsche Marmonia Mundi re-make has shrill and unflattering sound) is at its most revealing, with Kuijken's choppy, headlong but always thrilling performance coming in a 11'12'', a full two minutes quicker than Beznosiuk's more polished, penetrating and architecturally satisfying reading.

Linn's SACD recording, made in the enticing acoustic of St Martin's Church, East Woodhay, is altogether superlative. The impression is that one is listening from the third or fourth row back, and the natural ambience of the location lends a delicious bloom to the sound of Beznosiuk's instrument; not, incidentally, by one of the great Italian masters but the work of Matthuys Hofmans of Antwerp, c1676. John Butt's informative booklet notes are prefaced by a stimulating introductory essay by the violinist himself, while artwork and packaging similarly reflect this label's fastidious attention to every detail. You'd do well to seek this one out!

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J.S. Bach: Complete Sonatas & Partitas for Solo ViolinJ.S. Bach: Complete Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin