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Classical - Released January 1, 2005 | Alpha

Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 4 étoiles du Monde de la Musique
This wild recording, the first volume of two covering all the Bach sonatas and partitas for solo violin, may well polarize listeners into attitudes of love and hate. French violinist Hélène Schmitt delivers readings of the first sonata and the first two partitas that are nowhere near the mainstream for these celebrated works, which are generally regarded as icons of Bach's intellectual accomplishment and have been subjected to all kinds of numerological analysis. Violinists have performed them on modern instruments and on Baroque violins like Schmitt's, but whatever the instrument, the works have usually been accorded weighty, often severe reverence -- an attitude reinforced by their fearsome technical difficulty. Schmitt goes in the opposite direction, with rhythmically free, individualistic interpretations that demolish the symmetries many have found in these works but link them to the fantasy-like solo violin works written by Bach's predecessors. Bach probably did not know the works of Biber, but those who enjoy that Austrian composer's extreme language may well find Schmitt's reading of interest. But despite her nationality there's something decidedly un-French about Schmitt's interpretations. Her treatments of the dance movements in the partitas are so idiosyncratic that the basic rhythms are lost. Sample track 8, the Sarabande movement of the Partita for solo violin No. 1, BWV 1002, to hear the distance between Schmitt's sarabande and the dance's stately origins. It's almost as though, just as modern-instrument performers are starting to show the influence of historically oriented performers, Schmitt is using a Baroque violin to render a version of the hyper-subjective Bach performances of the old Romantic schools. The radical new French performances of Bach, Vivaldi, and other Baroque standards are generally exciting, and Alpha's presentation is as compelling as usual; the Hans Holbein portrait on the cover, with its accompanying art-historical essay, offers a perfect visual analogue to Bach's pieces in its sparse single lines that imply multitudes of structural details. Yet Schmitt's performance, even as it certainly demands attention, is certainly not for everyone. © TiVo

Classical - Released January 1, 2006 | Alpha

Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 4 étoiles du Monde de la Musique
Say what you will about scanty biographical material and uncertain personal links, it nevertheless seems entirely probable that Bach wrote at least some of his sonatas and partitas for violin solo after his first wife's death in 1720. In this second volume of Hélène Schmitt recordings of the works, her performance of the monumental A minor Sonata No. 2 is so passionate, so rhapsodic, and so expressive that the spirit of loss and grief fills the music like inconsolable tears. But, of course, while Schmitt is just as passionate, rhapsodic, and expressive in the joyous E major Partita and in the radiant C major Sonata, her playing makes it hard to credit that Bach wrote those works after his first wife's death. Schmitt performs on a period violin, and while she respects the historical traditions, she does so with the rhythmic and interpretive freedom of a romantic virtuoso, making her performances wilder and freer than any other period violinist. While not for the faint of heart, those who respond well to a challenge will find much to enjoy in Schmitt's performances, especially as captured in Alpha's "all but real" digital sound. © TiVo