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.