J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Henryk Szeryng
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Violin
Instrumentation:Violin
Individual Works:Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001
Partita No. 1 in B minor, BWV 1002
Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003
Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004
Sonata No. 3, in C, BWV 1005
Partita No. 3 in E, BWV 1006
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Deutsche Grammophon
Catalog Number:437 365-2
Year Released/Recorded:1968 ?
Total Playing Time:61'40 & 68'10
Comments:Marcel Harvey said:

Enregistrement acceptable. InterprÚtation remarquable.

John Henry Crosby said:

Henryk Szeryng's recording of the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin is perhaps not the greatest of the recordings of these pieces, but they are certainly one of the best. It his approach to them, one of great respect and love for Bach's music, that make them so beautiful. Not only is Szeryng a wonderful violinist in his own right, but he is an artist in a class of artists that no longer exists today; at least the majority of what people call artists today are not artists but rather performers, and sometimes sadly nothing more than entertainers.

One of the overlying principles in his disciplined approach -- and it is the great discipline of achieving technical mastery that then makes it possible to transcend to the level of artistry -- is his letting of the music speak for itself. Someone once brilliantly pointed out that in approaching and interpreting a piece of music -- and for that matter the text to a play -- one must realize that the piece in its objectivity will always be greater than what the perfomer will be able to do with it. It is this element in Szeryng's playing of these pieces that make his Bach so wonderful. It is the fact that he regards this truth of a piece's objective greatness in his interpretation that make it possible for someone to say that one ore another performance of his was better or worse than another. In other words, quite generally speaking, when we say that a perfomance was good we should not be so concerned with the technical merits of the performer -- although they are highly and fundamentally important, for true artistry only flourishes when the technique is so masterful that it allows the performer to transcend the technical into the artistic -- but rather with the way in which he deals with the piece's objective beauty; the way in which he puts his own mark on the music, whether it be overbearing or appropriate.

The greatness of Szeryng's Bach lies in that he lets the music speak for itself while still leaving his undeniable mark on the it. That is true artistry! And it is, as I wrote above, only with a great love and respect for the music that this is possible. Mozart said that artistic genius was not intellectual ability or great creativity, not even a combination of both, but rather "love, love, love is the soul of genius."

Some readers may argue saying that Szeryng was known for his great arrogance both on and of the stage. I would ask those who would object to what I have just written to read the CD jacket of the Bach violin concertos on the Phillips label written in tribute to Szeryng. The author speaks of how although Szeryng had a need to be surrounded by people and always be the center of attention, when he stepped onto stage, he would invariably stand back and let the music speak for itself. If you the reader still have trouble seeing this, then the only thing that could still change your perception would be to hear Szeryng's playing. This must be done
completetly free of any biases for or against his playing. Listen to him and if you still cannot come to terms with this trait attributed to him by many, then write your reasoning down and send it back to me at: rfriddle@erols.com violin student age 19, John Henry Crosby

Amy Ellen Mahn said:

An outstanding two CD collection surpassing Heifetz's recording by far. Szeryng's style is perfect for Bach. It's quite a study to get through as a violinist, but Szeryng makes it sound effortless and soothing.Great for Guitarists also.

Eran Zamir said:

Probably the clearest and best recording of these works that I have heard. He articulates each note in a way that is hard to find in other recordings.

Julian Krishnamurti said:

The Bach solo violin sonatas are a massive challenge to the performer not only technically, but also from an interpretive standpoint. There is no recording of the works where these complications are summounted as expertly as this Szeryng recording. Szeryng performs the cycle, including the thorniest of chordal passages, with consistently gorgeous tone, tasteful and intelligent bow and finger use, intonation that is stunning in its precision and, above all, a musicality that results in the most profound interpretation of these pieces. Each movement has passages deserving of mention and it is obvious that Szeryng has studied and calculated each measure in his interpretation. However it is not dry, overintellectualized Bach. It is multi-faceted musicality of the highest degree, a performance with great livelyness, joy, introspection, subtlety and nuance. One notices something new each time one listens to the recording. The comination of Carl Flesch's teaching and the influence of Jacques Thibaud's classically-oriented charm over Szeryng in his student days is evident in this recording, although without doubt, Szeryng maintains his own very distinct, unique musical personality. The recording quality is also top-notch. Overall, this is one of the greatest recordings ever made; the standards in all areas of this recording are very highly set. Szeryng also edited a printed edition of the Sonatas and Partitas, a valuble resource that gives insight into many of the methods, fingerings, bowings, etc... he used in the performance of these masterworks.

David Perrine said:

These are the 1967 recordings. Szeryng produces a splendid tone and his playing is technically flawless. He avoids the extreme fast tempos favored by many, but many of the pieces would benefit from more rhythmic freedom. The chords would benefit from a gentler attack. Szerying uses just enough expressive coloration to get the job done, but many will prefer performances with more personality. The sound is very clean and well balanced but also very dry.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Marcel Harvey
  • John Henry Crosby
  • Amy Ellen Mahn
  • Eran Zamir
  • Julian Krishnamurti
  • David Perrine
Date First Submitted:11/08/1997