BACH Partitas and Sonata Gringolts


Sonaten und Partiten für
Violine solo
Sonatas and Partitas for
Solo Violin
Sonates et Partitas pour
Violon seul
Sonate e partite per
violino solo:
BWV 1002, 1003, 1006
Ilya Gringolts
Int. Release 02 May. 2003
0289 474 2352 2
DDD 0289 474 2352 2 GH

Track List

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Partita for Violin Solo No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002







Sonata for Violin Solo No. 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003





Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006






Ilya Gringolts

Total Playing Time 58:44

With the recent release of his Bach . . . this young Russian prodigy has shown that he can indeed read between the lines and infuse these paramount solo violin works with remarkable verve. His unorthodox approach, often aggressive and sometimes sublimely lyrical, has sent some critics into a spin, especially those expecting a more honeyed interpretation of these polyphonic masterworks.

. . . a rich palette of sonic color that keeps the playing compelling and entirely violinistic
without ever getting in the way of the rhythm . . . few recent performances have made the pieces seem so fresh and immediate.

. . . tackles this music (the A-Minor Sonata and the B-Minor and E-Major Partitas) with an almost scary intensity ¿ the rhythms fierce and breathless, the multiple voices meshing with gritty urgency . . . Especially in the A-Minor Sonata, Gringolts takes the intellectual measure of Bach's writing without sacrificing any of its surface, and the result is a viscerally exciting performance.

Ilya Gringolts is not yet a name known to every music lover. But this CD will certainly start the process. These works by Bach are one of the pinnacles that violinists strive to attain, but there's no sense of strain. The virtuosity is evident, but it's also discreet.

One of the finest young players around . . .

. . . projecting interpretations full of rhythmic life, vivid rhetorical gestures and a sense of period style . . . one of the finest young players around.

fine musicianship . . .

Preceded by ringing endorsements from his teacher Itzhak Perlman and others, the young Russian violinist Ilya Gringolts burst on the concert scene last year with a spectacular recording of the Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky concertos. Now he shows himself a master of the chamber repertoire, too, with effortlessly polished versions of Bach's most challenging works, bringing his own musical intelligence and sensitivity to these fiendishly difficult partitas. It goes without saying that there's also technical virtuosity of the highest order, not least in the second sonata, but it's fellow-feeling with the composer's intents that shines through.

Ilya Gringolts stands poles apart from the traditional Russian school of Bach playing, projecting interpretations full of rhythmic life, vivid rhetorical gestures and a sense of period style. The 21-year-old musician's natural artistry does not impose artificial emotions on Bach's hugely complex solo Partitas. In general, Gringolts allows the music to speak for itself, although he stamps his personality on the fugal movements with conviction.

Gringolts plays Bach without a safety net. One gets the impression that he is thinking through this music as though it were hot off the press, rather than an 'old master' lying buried under years of interpretative accretions . . . Gringolts's rhythmic, dynamic and phrasal plasticity is such that the opening 'Grave' of the A minor Sonata creates the impression of a brilliant improvisation, thereby allowing the music's greatness to unfold naturally from within rather than having it enforced from without . . . Most importantly, Gringolts never sounds anything less than intoxicated by the music's raw power. The recording is as unflinchingly direct and honest as the playing itself, and the booklet by Jeremy Nicholas contains a typically revealing interview with Gringolts about the music.

. . . it is striking to find the 21-year-old . . . Gringolts nailing his colours strongly to the mast in these compelling and personal interpretations . . . always at the service of the music: thoughtful and up-to-the-moment.

Gringolts has strong views, with cords often spread, making a virtue out of separating their notes. Fast movements are very quick, yet never frenzied, while he steers clear of adding a wide spectrum of dynamics. Technically his playing is immaculate.

Here the accent is on assertiveness, agility, clean lines (largely vibrato-free, of course), informed scholarship and the freedom to extemporise . . . lively, impulsive Bach, occasionally aggressive, stylistically well targeted . . . and technically assured.

Ilya Gringolts goes his own way, turning in performances of swaggering individuality and abundant fantasy. ... each gesture appears as the product of deep reflection in an art that conceals art ... Gringolts comes out punching in the First Partita's Allemande, his jaunty swiftness producing an almost immediate knockout. His breathless Tempo di borea and jazzy ornamentation in its Double might establish him as a simple speed demon if it weren't for phrasing that reveals in cascades of notes profoundly moving and fascinatingly geometrical patterns. ... Obligatory for listeners, it imposes a corresponding obligation on him: He should finish the set while his muse still sings in his ear.

Ilya Gringolts, vielfach preisgekrönter, künstlerischer Ziehsohn Yehudi Menuhins, hat hier drei der sechs Solowerke Johann Sebastian Bachs aufgenommen... Die heikle Aufgabe bewältigt er mit Geschmack und durchaus mit Eigensinn, was sich nicht zuletzt an der durchdachten, zuweilen geradezu verspielten Phrasierung ablesen lässt, die gleichwohl stets zur klaren Strukturierung der Musik beiträgt. Bemerkenswert.

Gestützt auf eine makellose Bogen- und Grifftechnik schert er mit großer Leidenschaft aus der Normalität aus. Hier werden Doppelgriffe so gespielt, dass sie wie natürliche Elemente der polyphonen Kunst klingen... Bis hinein in die artikulatorischen Details lässt sich die musikalische Disposition verfolgen. Das ermöglicht auch eine gute Durchhörbarkeit der polyphonen Strukturen. Dass Gringolts keinesfalls die Sperrigkeit der Stücke leugnet, die skandierende Akzentuierung kantig dosiert, hebt die klanglich recht direkt realisierte Aufnahme aus der Fülle der Bachrezeptionen heraus. Für das hohe geigerische Niveau sprechen der fulminant aufgeschlüsselte Fugenbau (Sonata 2) und die beschwingt hingelegten kräftig akzentuierten Tanztypen der Partita Nr. 3. So stellt sich Bachs Universalität eindrucksvoll dar.

Ilya Gringolts Bach klingt ja nicht nur geigerisch meisterhaft, er überzeugt auch durch größte Ernsthaftigkeit. Jeder Takt verrät ausgeprägten Gestaltungswillen und ein sicheres Gespür für die Stimmverläufe. Gerade in der langen a-Moll-Fuge modelliert Gringolts so viele versteckte Details heraus, dass der Hörer keinen Moment die Spannung verliert. Die Charaktere der Tanzsätze sind sowohl artikulatorisch als auch von den Tempi her mustergültig klar gezeichnet. Besondere Freude bereiten die spielerischen Verzierungen.

Gringolts a le violon sous la peau, et quel violon!


ILYA GRINGOLTS was born in 1982 in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) and had his first violin lessons at the age of five. In 1988 he began studying with Tatyana Liberova and two years later entered the St. Petersburg Special Music School, also studying with Jeanna Metallidi. In 1992 he took second prize in the All-Russia Junior Competition and the following year made his public performance debut with orchestra in Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. He won first prize in the Youth Assemblies of Art Competition in 1994 and later that year made his Moscow Symphony Orchestra debut playing Wieniawski's Violin Concerto no.2.

At his first competition abroad, the Menuhin Competition in England in 1995, Gringolts was a prizewinner and met Yehudi Menuhin. That year he also made his western orchestral debut with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, performing Bruch's Concerto no. 1. In 1997 he took first prize in the Wieniawski Junior Competition in Poland. The following year the 16-year-old violinst became the youngest-ever winner of the International Violin Competition "Premio Paganini" and was cited as the best interpreter of Paganini's Caprices.

In 1998 Gringolts also met and played for Itzhak Perlman and the next year he entered the Juilliard School in New York to study with Perlman, with whom he continued to work until 2002, and the legendary teacher Dorothy DeLay. He made his North American debut in July of that year, performing with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa under the baton of Pinchas Zukerman. Other engagements with major North American orchestras quickly followed, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and the Minnesota Orchestra, as well a recital at the Ravinia Festival. On 28 October 2001 he performed at the "Ground Zero" Family Memorial concert (sharing the platform with Andrea Bocelli, Renée Fleming and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber), a concert televised internationally.

Gringolts made his BBC Proms debut in 2002, performing the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Vassily Sinaisky and was engaged to play in the following season with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim, the UBS Verbier Orchestra under Kurt Masur and Mstislav Rostropovich and the Israel Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta.

As one of Radio 3's New Generation Artists, Gringolts broadcasts regularly on the BBC. He has appeared in recital at such prestigious venues as London's Wigmore Hall, the Louvre in Paris and the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels. He is a regular guest at such international festivals as La Jolla and Verbier, where he has collaborated with artists such as Bashmet, Levine, Shaham, Kirshbaum, Ax and Andsnes, and has also performed at the Oleg Kagan and Natalia Gutman Festival, Bergen Festival and the City of London Festival.

In 2001 Ilya Gringolts signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. His debut recording for the Yellow Label - the Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich First Concertos, with the Israel Philharmonic and Itzhak Perlman - was released in 2002 to great critical acclaim. Gringolts plays the ex-Kiesewetter Stradivari (Cremona, c.1723), which is on extended loan from Clement Arrison through the generous efforts of the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

    Ilya Gringolts plays J. S. Bach

Sonata no. 2 in A minor · Partita no. 1 in B minor · Partita no. 3 in E major

Bach's set of Three Sonatas and Three Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1001-06, from which Ilya Gringolts's programme is taken, represents the culmination of Baroque polyphony for string instruments. Although they are products of a well-defined tradition - the German Baroque school of violin playing is characterized by its emphasis on polyphony and widely spaced chords - the six works are unique in their power and complexity. Bach completed them in 1720 at Cöthen, where he was employed by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. During this period (1717-23), unlike his career before and after, Bach composed nothing but secular music. The autograph copy of the score of the six works bears the title "Sei solo a Violino senza Basso accompagnato Libro Primo" (the six Cello Suites formed the "Libro Secondo"). It was first published complete in 1802.

Ilya Gringolts, in conversation with Jeremy Nicholas, discusses this Everest of the violinist's repertoire.

How did you make your choice of which sonatas and partitas you should record?
We could divide them into the "big" and the "small" ones - the small ones would be the first two Sonatas and the last Partita. I have tried to create a good balance, so here we have the First Partita, which is a pretty major work, and two others that last about 20 minutes each. Also, the First Partita has a lot of weight and meaning, as does the Second Sonata - while the Third Partita is lighter (that's not to say lightweight), a very relaxed piece without as much drama.

Why are the Sonatas and Partitas so important to the violinist's repertory?
Funnily enough, these pieces could have been written for any instrument. The evidence for that is in Bach's works themselves - you can trace bits and pieces of the violin cycle in his cantatas, lute suites, organ works and elsewhere. That's the thing about Baroque music - the voice and colour don't matter that much. It's the harmonies and the rhythmic skeleton that are most important. Of course, if we narrow it down to the purely violinistic side of things, they're unmatched by any other pieces from that period. Just look at the fugues - they really are ground-breaking because nobody then surpassed the technical and polyphonic level of writing. And nobody ever surpassed it in the years to come (though some came close). It's hard to trace evidence of how to play the fugues, but there are a lot of documented references to performing the Partitas, because the genre is represented in other composers' works. The fugues, though, are basically one of a kind, and you can really only explore them for yourself.

Which sources do you use? There are autographs of all six, but subsequent editions contain variants and alternative texts that have been used in the past.
You're right, there are little variants. But in general it just comes down to a couple of notes - the differences aren't that big. I'm using the Galamian edition, but I've never looked at it - I only bought it because it has a facsimile in the back! I've only been referring to that.

What are the main technical problems? There were all those now discredited theories that the polyphonic writing could not be played with a normal bow.
You're referring to the "Bach bow", which never existed, yes? [The so-called Bach bow, totally unknown to Bach, was introduced by Arnold Schering and Albert Schweitzer, who were convinced that Bach's multiple stopping could not be properly executed by a conventional bow.] Well, things that could be done with the Bach-bow-that-didn't-exist could also be done with a normal bow or a Baroque bow. But of course, as in any polyphonic piece, you have to single out the voices that are important and bring them out. That's the biggest challenge. Obviously, bringing out the main subject is not always the best solution. Given the sheer number of countersubjects in Bach's fugues, it's much more interesting to make them "shine through" along with the omnipresent main subject. The other issue with the fugues is managing to have the bigger canvas in mind at all times. The harmonic construction of the whole thing, the cadences - those things must never be overlooked.

Are there tempo indications on the autograph score?
Well, there are a lot of references to how the music was played - how some people liked it slower, some liked it faster. There is no one opinion about it. The question, as I said before, is really the rhythm. If you listen to the best versions of his Orchestral Suites, or the Brandenburgs or his cantatas, what guarantees their success is the rhythmic basis. Everything else comes from that. That's the crucial thing. If it's got that swing going, then most of it is pretty well taken care of.

How long have you been playing these works? They take an awful long time to get to know.
You're right. I've been playing them for as long as I can remember. My first experience was the D minor Partita - first four movements, no Chaconne - when I'd just turned 13. I'd played through them all by the time I was 16. I remember practising them really just for the hell of it, because it's like your daily bread. It's also what you dream of playing - you can never conquer it, you can never fully understand it.

There's no definitive way...
...Absolutely not. You just dig and dig and you never find the bottom.

Is there anybody in particular or, say, in the early music movement who has influenced your Bach playing?

Of course. Many people. But not violinists! I own about ten recordings of the cycle and none of them really influenced me, though some do convince me in certain ways. The biggest influences on my playing in the early music revival have been Harnoncourt (his Brandenburgs and certain cantatas), Gardiner (his choral recordings) and Leonhardt - his harpsichord playing is unbelievable. I was lucky enough to hear him live in St. Petersburg last year. It blew me away.

Is there a Russian school of Bach playing?
The Russians were never very keen on Bach. They always played everything in a romantic manner. That's a national feature and when applied to Bach I don't believe it can work. Their (well, our!) Bach has a tendency to sound a bit on the never-ending side - a lot of melodic lines, shapeless.

Whoever Bach wrote these pieces for must have been extremely proficient. And then to balance the virtuosic aspect with the spiritual makes them even more demanding.
These pieces are really the summit of violin technique. Even next to Paganini, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, Prokofiev - this stuff is still the hardest. You're right about balancing, but the virtuosic side has nothing to do with virtuosic playing as we understand it today. Even the worst recordings of the Bach are never virtuosic. Playing it in the 19th-century virtuosic manner would be in the worst taste ever. No, these pieces are for people who know what difficulties are involved. That's a different species of virtuosity.

(Jeremy Nicholas 2003 )