Bach's unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas have been called every violinist's Everest and Bible. Mastering them is like scaling Everest's heights; penetrating their intellectual and emotional content like experiencing the Bible's depths. No wonder they inspire different, personal responses in every player. Holloway's concept, explained in his liner notes and projected in his performance, is very much his own, based on rigorous historical scholarship and passionate involvement. His technical command is extraordinarily effortless and entirely at the service of the music. His tone is pure and, recorded in a church, but his violin does not sound "baroque" to the naked ear. His style, however, certainly does. The tuning is low, the intonation is tempered, and he uses very little vibrato. The voice-leading and counterpoint are clear; Holloway even brings out the themes in the bass of the arpeggiated chords though he breaks them all upward. With remarkable bow-control, he meticulously observes articulation and dynamics. He takes all repeats (except one in the A-minor Sonata, which he feels would undercut the movement's drama), but almost never varies them. Tempi are sensible, only the Prestos get hectic and muddled; the slow movements are stately and austere but flowing, the fugues are admirable. The dances really dance; most endings fade away. His approach to rhythm is no doubt authentic but sometimes idiosyncratic, with inconsistencies in double-dotting and sustaining notes, long pauses between phrases, thrown-away ornamental figures, and excessively improvisatory Preludes. A sense of strain shows only in the C-major Sonata's murderous fugue and in the D-minor Partita, which is marred by wrong accents, jerky, uneven rhythms, unbalanced liberties and some unconvincing climaxes. Generally, however, this is a fascinating addition to the discography of these masterpieces. --Edith Eisler
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo. This historically-informed interpretation - with a forty-year relationship with these works as its foundation - will likely establish a future benchmark for these inexhaustible masterworks.