138:00 (2CDs in a card triptych)
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Seventeen years on from his first recording of the Sei Soli, Tedi Papavrami, the Albanian and French educated violinist playing a fairly new violin by Christian Bayon (Lisbon 2015) and using a bow by Jean Marie Persoit (Paris c.1830) found himself in lockdown returning to Bach. With many concerts cancelled, and a violin that was making what he described as a ‘more luminous sound’ than the one he used for his recording in 2005, he chose the Arsenal at Metz to make a new recording that was more spare, and pruned of showy excesses.
Jacques Drillon, writing in the liner notes quotes the film director Robert Bresson as saying, ‘One does not create by adding, but by subtracting’.
The lockdown return to Bach has given Papavrami a sharpened sense of the essential nature of these remarkable pieces, where the bass is always implied, though never stated, and less is somehow more. So this is a new and leaner Papavrami, dispensing with vibrato for the most part and positioning himself in the space between Milstein and Kuijken, but eschewing the bravura and showmanship associated with an earlier generation of famous solo violinists.
He plays a modern instrument at A=440, so in no way is this an ‘early music’ performance and cannot be compared with the light-fingered, dancing recordings made by Rachel Podger. Instead, we hear a sober and thoughtful account with no frills that lets the music speak for itself rather than showcase an individual’s personality. By contrast, I find Jacques Drillon’s booklet essay – apparently delving into the changing mindset of Papavrami to explain his new take – rather personality-centred. It diverts us from the music, with the many questions that the Sei soli raise – three Italian-style sonatas and three French-style suites – only glancingly mentioned.
But there are other good points: the giving (rather than resonant) acoustic of the Arsenal in Metz (where Christine Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata recorded their Monteverdi Vespers in 2010) is splendid, and the pacing and attention to phrasing is all good. But my own preference is for a lighter bow-stroke and more attention to the harmonic superstructure offered by a less equal temperament.