Baroque Bach

November 1, 2006 at 12:08 AM · Hello, I've been really getting into baroque violin, and I was wondering if any of you have recommendations of good recordings of Bach's Sonatas & Partitas that are in an authentic 18th century style. I've listened to Rachel Podger, whom I really liked, and Elizabeth Walfisch, whom I didn't really care for. I'd love to hear your opinnions. Thanks!

Replies (45)

November 1, 2006 at 12:57 AM · monica huggett, sigiswald kuijken, john holloway, and jaap schroder have recorded period instrument versions of the S&P in recent times.

if you want to hear from an 'old school' period instrument performer, uto ughi (one of the very first period specialists from the 60s and a juilliard grad contemporary of kyung wha chung and perlman) has also recorded the S&P.

if you'd like some further insight into bach's supreme musical intelligence, do a search for the (now defunct) site on's wayback machine. mathematician cory hall explained the logic in bach's supreme formal mastery using mathematical ratios founded on the golden mean and by doing so, derived mathematically coherent tempos for many of bach's movements. an interesting website that was taken down way too soon.

November 1, 2006 at 01:13 AM · Van Dael is the master (or mistress)

November 1, 2006 at 07:12 PM · You wish...

November 1, 2006 at 08:22 PM · Any porte in a storm...

November 1, 2006 at 09:09 PM · David--The thing is, if you ‘get’ Rachel Podger’s rendition, it may be difficult to find another period version which you want to listen to. Other recordings just tend to leave me more impressed with hers all over again.

Kuijken’s ok for a bit as a change, but the Holloway and Van Dael conceptions seem strange and often feel out of control to me. I’d like to hear samples of the Monica Huggett version, although I’m still trying to find my way into her recordings–in person I find her a convincing and absorbing player.

November 2, 2006 at 02:25 AM · I'd suggest...Pieter Wispelwey's Bach cello suites. As it happens, listening to other bigger brothers is altogether more helpful.


November 2, 2006 at 04:54 AM · I like the Lucy van Dael recording quite a bit. :)

November 16, 2006 at 07:16 PM · I like sigiswald kuijken - it is a fresh recording. But who really impressed me recently is the young German violinist Susanna Yoko Henkel. She does not play in baroque style, but her Bach is amazingly swinging, clear and transparent - unlike many others, even new and highly recommended CDs, Susanna Yoko manages to sustain the music's linear and contrapuntal clarity. For me a great recording - but it's not on a baroque instrument...

November 16, 2006 at 07:24 PM · I prefer van Dael for the baroque recording of the S&Ps.

November 16, 2006 at 08:37 PM · Hi,

I second the recommendations for Podger and Van Dael's recordings of the S&P as well as Ilya's recommendation of Pieter Wispelwey's Bach cello suites.


November 16, 2006 at 09:02 PM · i am a great fan of s&p, also the corelli trios, and i was wondering about recommendations for other baroque or early romantic music that might be of interest.

November 17, 2006 at 01:27 AM · Greetings,

Elizabeth Walfisch is good across a wide time span. She explores the contemporay tools and styles of specific composer in great depth. An interesting case is Viotti 22. I have recordings by perlman , Shumsky and some other Czech violnist I forget. The first two are, of course, suptious and brilliant. Perlman being the man as far as i am concerned. However, I started to listen to the Walfisch recording and after I got used to the slight abrasivness, markedly thinner tecture andf appraoch to phrasing I now feel uncomfortable with those first recordings. Those sound somewhat like great players doign justice to `not quite great music.` With a more `authentic` approach the music manages to stake more of a claim for respect in its own right, at least to my ear.

The other highly underated player who I think is doing briliiant stuff with for example, Tartini, is the German violinist Turban. He does have a web ste.



November 17, 2006 at 01:40 AM · Definitely Rachel Podger's recording, David. :) i would venture to call hers definitive. Wispelway's 6th Suite (D major) is breathtaking...he shows so much insight, poise, and clarity with the suites.

November 17, 2006 at 11:23 PM · Hi,

Buri - I have to say that I am partial to Grumiaux and Stern's recordings of Viotti 22 with orchestra. Grumiaux for his usual classicism, and Stern for the incredible drama he brings to this piece.


November 18, 2006 at 04:24 AM · Greetings,

both of which you are going to bring when you drop in on me in Japan, yes?



November 18, 2006 at 06:21 AM · Greetings,

I belive there isa recording floating aorund by Oistrakh. I bet those trills are just awesome,


B uri

November 18, 2006 at 06:26 AM · Chicago-based violinist Rachel Barton Pine plays on an unaltered Gagliano violin with gut strings tuned down. She was the first American (and youngest) to win the International Bach competition.

She also has the Brahms Concerto (among others) recorded with the Chicago Symphony, so she's not totally a baroque violinist. She does play in a Baroque trio, and though I'm not one for period performances, her Bach recording was very helpful in my own studies and I think is just lovely!

November 20, 2006 at 01:14 AM · Josef Joachim playing Brahms: recorded around 1903. That is a true period recording! It will be hard to find a greater authority on Brahms' music than Joachim. However, interesting as this recording may be, who wants Brahms played that way nowadays? In other words, who cares how Bachs music may have sounded around 1720? It can easily be proven that Bach had a poor technique on the violin and therefore left out notes which might have required an additional change of position (which he couldn't make) and in other cases added notes for the same reason.

November 20, 2006 at 11:36 AM · Prove it then, will ya


November 20, 2006 at 01:49 PM · Tijn - everything I have read about Bach indicates that he was an excellent violinist. So, as Ilya said, "prove it."

November 20, 2006 at 04:16 PM · Yeah Tijn, when did you hear Bach? For all you know he had flawless technique. While you're at it, tell us what Paganini really sounded like. :)

November 20, 2006 at 08:47 PM · Bachs Sonata for violin solo in a minor #2 is a good piece of evidence. Especially because Bach himself wrote the same piece for cembalo. Put them next to each other and you have a clear view on the frustations Bach must have felt when he had to obey the limitations of just four strings and four fingers. In the first movement in bar 1 the bass goes A-G-F-E. In bar 2 the bass continues D-D# and then: where is E which is supposed to arrive according to all the rules Bach was following? (Of course this note appears in the cembalo piece)

There is one valid explanation as to why Bach did not write this E. He had to leave the safety of the first position. This is just one example.

When you take a close look to Bachs music you'll find a lot of other examples (or evidence) that Bach and his contempories were not as comfortable with frequent changes of position as we are now. Which again can easily be explained by the fact that the chinrest was not yet in use. I'm sorry to dissappoint you in admitting that I did not hear Bach play the violin. But I have learned to read music and to ask myself questions as to why certain notes were - or were not - written.

November 20, 2006 at 09:21 PM · "Only one explanation" for why he didn't follow exactly a strict pattern? That he couldn't play it? How about: what he wanted to write didn't exactly fit a strict pattern? Good grief, man, just take a LOOK at those sonatas and partitas and tell me with a straight face they were written for someone with poor technique.

Edit: I just re-read your message and have more to add. It is important to remember the differences between playing Baroque and modern violins. Shifting just wasn't a big part of technique back then, so we can't seriously say Bach had "bad technique" because he had difficulty with something that was infrequently used and very difficult.

November 20, 2006 at 10:12 PM · Hi,

Tinj - which came first - the violin or cembalo version? Bach did use for example the E Major Prelude for a Cantata (26 or 27 I believe), and he is known to have re-used material, but that does not necessarily imply that he felt frustration at the confines of a particular medium.


November 21, 2006 at 12:59 AM · Many people believe in a Darwinian-style regular progression or evolution of violin playing. Stumbling, inept Man first learned to scrape away in first position. Then he had a bright spark and invented the idea of putting the fiddle under his chin. Then he had another great idea and decided to invent playing in higher positions. It all developed logically and neatly (and boringly).

I think it possible that Bach was pretty clever and played in more than one position, regardless of his equipment. He had a lot of get up and go.

November 20, 2006 at 11:54 PM · Why bother so much about authentic performances of Baroque music and brush aside true historic and utterly authentic recordings such as made by Joachim, Sarasate, Ravel, Debussy, etc. playing their own music and the music dedicated to them? Mendelssohn was adament about not wanting a flying spiccato in the last movement of his violin concerto. (I believe he told Joachim so) Although this is a valuable piece of information, must we all throw away our Heifetz and Milstein recordings of the Mendelssohn? I believe it was Gitlis who said: if there would be only one right way to play, how poor music would be! I prefer Glenn Goulds Bach to any Bach performance on cembalo, authentic or not. It is just superb piano playing and superb music making.

November 21, 2006 at 03:53 AM · Jon,

Some take different view--e.g., In the Beginning, all was simple and without virtuosity. And then God said, Let Paganini Be! And there was light. :)

Not saying I agree with this worldview, but shouldn't we give both opinions equal time? ;) lol

November 21, 2006 at 08:42 AM · Hi Maura

Yes, I'm all for it. lol.


PS hope you're still keeping up with your Joska readings.

November 21, 2006 at 03:37 PM · Of course, Joska is my second teacher. :) Just yesterday he reminded me to always remember the effects of each string's distinct tone color when deciding where to shift and what strings to play things on. :)

December 7, 2006 at 11:08 AM · Van Dael, Van Dael, Van Dael and Van Dael rules!

And then comes Jaap Schröder first runner up.


December 7, 2006 at 07:43 PM · That order might change once the Florida votes are in.

July 9, 2010 at 04:46 PM ·

Found this topic to patch this on.  We were discussing the Heifetz P&S recording and the question came up on the first performers of these works in the modern era.  I found the following - but since it was off subject took it out of that one.

Tom, according to Wiki (and we all know dear Wiki can not be wrong :D ), it was Josef Joachim who dug these pieces out of the closset (though I guess we would have to ask Dear Josef where he found them):

I read the same thing on one of Milstein's CD covers - though that credited him with making them actual performance pieces.  I'd be interested to see who performed them first, him or Yheudi

wait a mo, here is a terrific history: which says:

The first complete set Yehudi Menuhinemerged piecemeal from 1934 to 1936 (an integral release would have required an unwieldy set of nineteen 78s!) from an unlikely source – Yehudi Menuhin, then a mere teenager (now on EMI or Naxos).




and then...

The playing of Jascha HeifetzJascha Heifetz plays the Bach Sonatas and Partitas - BMG CD is often maligned as cold, mechanical and unfeeling. But not in his 1952 set of the Sonatas and Partitas (BMG 67148), though. His complete mastery of the technical challenges allowed him a unique opportunity – to transcend practical limitations to draw us to a rarified level where the barest of inflection wields a surprisingly powerful impact. With others, there's an unavoidable tension in negotiating the mechanical hurdles. Heifetz alone enables the listener to bask in the purity of abstract music, a vision constantly alive with the subtlest of emotional shading.



Far more personal was Joseph Szigeti,Joseph Szigeti plays two Bach Sonatas and one Partita live at Carnegie Hall, 1946 - Music and Arts CD 774 who explored Bach with brimming imagination and huge expressivity. He cut the first two Sonatas in 1931 and 1933 (Biddulph 153) with huge tempo variation, not only to underline the overall structure but to emphasize the force of individual notes within individual phrases and to deemphasize the melody within the polyphonic context. Yet, his tone remains teasingly sweet, as if to insist that the listener join him to plunge beneath the superficially calm surface; indeed, it's hard to imagine that this is the same artist who kept pace with Bartok's rough and tumble playing in their famed recitals. In a 1946 New York concert (Music and Arts 774) his slow movements emerged as soulful and exquisite but in the faster ones emotion often overwhelmed his deteriorating technique. By the time he cut his integral set in 1955-6 (Bach Guild 1246) he clearly was struggling, yet managed to impart an aura of deeply personal involvement that gave his set a uniquely improvisatory feeling.

..but I'm copying too much - there is tons more and you MUST read the original by Peter Gutman yourselves...


July 9, 2010 at 06:34 PM ·

Elise - I have no doubt that Joachim was the one who dug the S&Ps out of the closet.  There is a recording of him doing a movement of one of the sonatas (check Youtube) from very early 1900s.  However, I believe the violinists who popularized them and regularly included them in recitals were Heifetz, Kreisler, Milstein, Menuhin and Benedetti.

July 9, 2010 at 06:48 PM ·

I think the article agrees with you - it is, of course, a bit more difficult to say who did what based on recitals as appart form recordings.  I presume Yehudi discovered the S&Ps from Enesco.

July 9, 2010 at 06:59 PM ·

Elise - thanks for posting the link to Peter Gutmann's fabulous website.  It is a wonderful resource for classical music lovers.  I have exchanged emails with him for a number of years on various topics and actually provided a bit of information for the S&P article (can't remember what exactly).  

July 9, 2010 at 07:11 PM ·

Anything you can get by Concerto Copenhange is worth it -- they're period, even to their equipment (old-style bows, gut strings, etc.).  Their old concertmaster was a Finnish woman named Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen(?) who can make a Baroque fiddle turn cartwheels.  If either of them have done what you're looking for, grab it.

July 9, 2010 at 10:05 PM ·

For outstanding recordings, there's always Ricci's famous set.

Authentic baroque style? Wonder what that is? Is that the style with no vibrato, a crescendo on each long note to an abrupt cut-off? Or was that last year's fashion?

Unfortunately, I don't think we'll ever really "know" .

The thing that amazes me is how difficult these are. If I recall my music history correctly, Bach's players weren't even full time musicians, but doubled as second gardener etc. And yet even today we talk about the recordings made by the era's greatest virtuoso players, there don't seem to be any by mere mortals.


July 10, 2010 at 12:21 AM ·

People wonder about "authentic Baroque style".  Even though we don't have recordings, we have lots and lots of documentation and description of Baroque style.  It is full of improvised ornamentation that follows some well documented "rules". Several composers wrote examples of how to do it.  Bach did not do this for instrumental works, but he wrote out style descriptions for his less experienced choral group performers.  I have a college lesson book 2 inches thick with many many examples written in the period and detailed descriptions written in the period.  We have a lot of data about "authentic Baroque style". So I don't believe the skeptics.

Kristian Bezuidenhout  is making a career of playing harpsichord, fortepiano and piano in Baroque style.  He studied Baroque style with its improvised ornamentation extensively as an undergraduate and a graduate student.  He now  teaches in Switzerland and performs worldwide.  After hearing one of his lecture demonstrations,  I asked which violinists have done the same study of the descriptive literature and perform in a documented Baroque style.  His unfortunate answer is that he does not know of any violinists that have done the same extensive study of documented style and turned that knowledge into a solo performing career.

If his comment is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, then there aren't violin soloists who can carry off multiple entire pieces in "authentic Baroque style".  Even though they may be using a Baroque bow, they have not internalized the stylistic touches for improvised ornamentation.  The good news here, is that the door is open for some enterprising, up-and-coming violinist to learn this technique, and turn it into a worldwide solo performing career - like Kristian is doing on the keyboards.  Have at it, and best of luck.

July 10, 2010 at 01:55 AM ·


I think Lucy Van Dael is easily a scholarly equivalent.



July 10, 2010 at 07:04 AM ·

I have both her (Lucy) and Rachel Podger recordings - and I must say I prefer the latter. 

July 12, 2010 at 08:01 PM ·

I have listened to a bit of Lucy Van Dael and Rachel Podger.  Lucy is pleasant to listen to.  Neither of them play in what we know to be "authentic Baroque style".  We have numerous examples where Baroque composers wrote out example performances to illustrate how to play their written music notation.  Their written out performance examples are heavily ladened with ornaments.  We would today call them complex theme and variations.  Authentic Baroque performance was "very busy" even if the written notes were mostly quarters and eights.  In actual performance in the Baroque era, soloists were expected to improvise the ornaments, hence no two performances were likely to be the same.  I have heard this style of Baroque performance (on keyboards), and it is stunning. No wonder Bach and Mozart were regarded as the greatest improvising performers of their time.

Lucy Van Dael and Rachel Podger play very simple renditions, very close to the written notes, which of course, the Baroque composers put down only as a starting point for what we today would call improvised complex theme and variations.  Some of their performances are "pretty", but they are nowhere near "authentic".

The door is open for up-and-coming violin soloists to make major careers via improvised ornamentation on Baroque violin music.  It is exciting music, but an open gap at the moment.  No one is doing it on the solo violin.  If you are interested, start by looking at the written music and the example performances from composers like Handel and Corelli.  Pisendel, a Dresden concertmaster of the era, also wrote out performance examples.  There is an audience for authentic improvised style - its been proven on the keyboard.  Good luck.

July 12, 2010 at 08:36 PM ·

If I recall correctly, Monica Huggett's recording of the S&Ps features improvised ornaments.  I recall not liking it all that much.  While I agree that "authentic" Baroque performance might suggest the use of such ornamentation, it is not clear to me that it adds all that much: trivial additions to awesomely great music.  The ornamentation, on the other hand, might be very useful to dress up music by less good composers.  However, perhaps some up-and-coming baroque violinist will show me I am wrong.

July 12, 2010 at 09:39 PM ·

There is no such a thing as the "authentic" way in Bach. I simply do not believe in that assertion. After having read Gemiani's complete work on the art of violin playing, published in London and same by Spohr published quite later, there is great questionning about the use of vibrato. Mozart was himself in disaproval on that particular matter with his father Leopold.. Like Geminiani, he believed that violin was extension of the human voice and that vibrato should be used as often as possible. Spohr did not understand the process, Joachim either. In Germany, Austria and France, this was not settled until Kreisler. Spohr dissaproved the use of it alla Paganini. In Italy, vibrato was in use since Vivaldi and Corelli. Tartini published also a very important work and with circles indicated in some of his music how to do it, and it seems to a be continuous one with ideas closed to Gemiani's own who clearly advocates to make a use of it as often as possible. You would learn a great deal also by reading about Farinelli and other famous singer of the time. Vocal technique included vibrato, this was the true tradition. Spohr and Joachim thought it was a kind of spasmodic movement applied once in a while like an ornement. Even Spohr was doing a kind of wave with his bow to simulate vibrato. You can read also Auer on that subject matter who thought it was simply an embellishment and complained about his own students, influenced by Kreisler, who did not follow his advice ( Elman,Seidel and Heifetz). Milstein made a compromise and was using both ways in Bach. Szeryng was in symbiose with Milstein and I believe both understood how to use vibrato in Bach music.

Followers, Kremer and Mullova do have highly interesting approach and great ideas about conciliating the dilemna ( baroque-modern approach)

July 13, 2010 at 07:27 PM ·

What is meant by "authentic Baroque performance"?  It is not "one thing" because there were many national styles, and of course, there was improvised ornamentation which created personal soloist styles.  "Authentic" means "historically informed by period documentation".  For example, vibrato is well documented as an emotional embellishment in Baroque performances. Continuous vibrato, for better or worse, came along much later. Another example is improvised ornamentation. Yet another example is unequal or lilting rhythm in certain places for eighth notes even though they are written as 'equal eighth notes'.  These examples could go on and on.  Realize that these performance styles were used in the music of all Baroque composers, and they were not just used on 'the lesser composers'.  In fact, Bach and Mozart were widely known for their own performance of improvised ornamentation in their own works.  They were able to draw huge crowds because people wanted to hear not only their new works, but also hear the new improvised variations they would perform on their existing compositions. 

The reality of historical Baroque performance was that is was highly varied.  Today, thanks to record recording companies who want 'standardized product', many people think that Baroque style should be one simple thing.  (But that is another long story.)  It just wasn't so for the actual performances in the Baroque era.

July 13, 2010 at 07:35 PM ·

There is another obvious factor that oddly doesn't seem to come up: playing with period instruments - and most important of course the bow.  Thats a big factor that gives Rachel's performances their quality to me, embellishment or no.

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