Review: Benedict Cruft Violin Sonatas and Partitas

Kirk McElhearn wrote (September 30, 2001):Some weeks ago, it was pointed out on the list that Jan Hanford, on her site, praised this recording. Since I value her opinions, I thought I would check it out as well. This review shows that one man's meat is indeed another man's poison.Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin stand apart in the composer's work, as well as in the entire repertoire of violin music. While other composers have written solo pieces for violin (some of Bach's predecessors, such as Biber, Westhoff and Walther had written solo violin works, and others wrote solo pieces after Bach), none approach Bach's works, which stand at the summit of the violin repertoire. Written in the middle of Bach's life (completed in 1720), these six suites achieve the unthinkable - they manage to express complex polyphonic music with an essentially monophonic instrument. When listening to them, one is constantly amazed at the unheard harmonies that are created in the listener's inner ear through Bach's magnificently subtle counterpoint. Bach was himself an excellent violinist, in addition to being a virtuoso organist and harpsichordist, and these works are indeed very difficult, both in the actual playing as well as the nuances of phrasing that need to be applied. It is difficult to describe these pieces - they are miracles of music, where a single violin embarks on some of the most remarkable musical discourses ever written. Constructed in the sonata da chiesa form (slow-fastslow-fast), the three sonatas each contain fugues as their second movements. One of Bach's most memorable fugues appears in the first sonata in G

² I have adopted Cruft’s spellings. is a masterpiece of simplicity and complexity combined. although this is not a real problem. so I then thought that we must call the pieces by his own titles as well. Based on the standard suite of dance movements popular in the Baroque period. because that is Bach's title on his he says.Benedict Cruft plays a 1715 Carlo Tononi (in modern set-up) using a Francois Tourte bow from about 1785. originally written for organ. at over 15 minutes in this recording. this fugue. here is his reasoning for this:³I decided to entitle the CD "Sonatas & Partias" (sic) rather than the more usual Partitas. even Fuga or Fugue etc. he calls them ³Sonatas and Partias². as he obviously intends a different structure or mood to a Gigue and a Giga. Most people think that the missing t is a careless typo. the three partitas vary from 5 to 8 movements.Also. from 1 to 6." This can be slightly disconcerting for those used to hearing them in the "usual" order. Sarabanda or Sarabande. At best. even though I don’t feel this is such an important issue. This is an excellent sounding violin. it can only confuse people looking for this recording in on-line dealers’ web sites. Corrente or Courante. this "is the order I have found most satisfactory for the pairs of concerts of the complete set that I have been giving during the last twelve years.Allemande or Allemanda.Benedict Cruft has recorded these pieces in a slightly different order than usual . Chaconne or Ciaccona. One naturally thinks of the massive chaconne in the second partita. We thought for a long time about how to list the movement titles . but his tone can be . this series of variations on a theme is perhaps the most incredible movement ever written for the violin.. and eventually decided to call each movement exactly what Bach called it in his autograph copy.

his tone is warm and intimate. not only because of the huge chaconne at the end. and they don't dance on this recording. Yet. that seem to be a sort of musical discourse leading up to the final monument. these tempi work much better in the contrapuntal movements. his tempi are a bit slower than the norm. where Cruft seems to be just this side of getting the rhythm right. where they allow the various lines to be more clearly heard.jarring . They sound too intense and not joyful enough. For those who have trouble listening to solo violin music.The D minor partita is my personal favourite.the first piece. But there are a few places where he misses the rhythm just slightly. although. In this sonata. but because of the rich flowing melodies of the other movements. and the lower notes on the instrument are strong and projectwell. such as in the Menuets of the E major partita. in the A minor sonata. starts out with some of the highest notes of the set. because of its harshness. the E major Partita. However. The Chaconne. this can be an instant turnoff. with its recurring bass note carrying the rhythm.The Fugue from the G minor sonata is one of my favourite movements of . which is the movement by which violinists are always measured. These are dance movements. is performed with a great deal of energy. Because of this.Cruft's tempi are relatively slow compared to most other recordings. where the range is a bit lower. Cruft does well in this partita. giving more convincing rhythmic structure to the Corrente and Giga. then maintains this energy throughout the movement. The Andante of the A minor sonata also sounds excellent at this slightly slower tempo. throwing off the inertia of this huge piece. as Cruft attacks the strings with verve in the initial measures. the double stops give off a great radiance. again. the music can sound wooden and rigid.

and I lost track of the counterpoint in this movement. While Cruft plays with emotion. and impeccable playing. complex. at over 14 minutes on this recording. Arthur Grumiaux's recording is hard to beat. which is also the final movement on the set. and Bach transcribed it for organ as well as lute.The tempi of the different movements make me a bit uncomfortable. is a long. the Allegro Assai. the final movement of this Sonata. Cruft loses the thread in this fugue. the perfect tempo. this fugue fits many forms. but not among the very best. . more so than elsewhere. Would that the entire set were as good as this single movement. Cruft manages to instil some of that mystery in the listener.The huge C minor fugue. I still feel that Sigiswald Kuijken's first recording is an excellent choice. comes across perfectly. again. Yet. This is a fine recording. for a more classical approach. with some hesitation that bursts the bubble of magic this beautiful piece creates. the slow tempo is just a bit disconcerting. curiously. some of the dance movements just sound too rigid for my taste. mysterious fugue. For those interested in a baroque approach. but.all of Bach's music. His tone here is also a bit off. with the ideal rhythm.

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