Bach Sonatas and Partitas

September 14, 2004 at 05:54 PM · What do you think of recoridings by Szeryng and Milstein (Bach Sonatas and Partitas)? Which one do you like better? Or is there any other that you would recommend?

Replies (100)

September 14, 2004 at 07:29 PM · I personally have always felt that Milstein's 1950s recording on Capitol was the best recording of the S/P. However, I also like other recordings (Szeryng, Grumiaux, Perlman).

September 15, 2004 at 07:44 AM · Yes on balance I think Milstein is hard to beat - but I always get new insights from listening to other performances, of which Szeryng is one of the best.I don't personally care for the Heiftz recording I have. Of the modern generation, I am very fond of Benjamin Schmid's performance - particularly the first 2 sonatas and the 1st paritita are outstanding - his bowing is amazing.

September 15, 2004 at 08:41 AM · My whife detests Schmid's solorecording, she says that she gets sea-sick!

I personally like his piano acc. set (Arr Schumann) better, He is a bit more daring musically, a bit more virtuosic and doesnt woble the dynamics up and down as fast :)

September 15, 2004 at 02:51 PM · I like Joseph Suk's recording. Szeryng and Milstein are probably the 2 most well known. I like my Szigeti set, and Rosand. Grimaux is another standard, along with Milstein and Szeryng.

September 15, 2004 at 04:41 PM · Szigeti's performance is weird. I have no idea what he's trying to do with the music. He had a strange musical mind.

September 15, 2004 at 04:40 PM · I have Grumiaux, Suk and Milstein - all great.

Would also recommend Lara St. John: there's "the topless album" (D minor and C major) and the "concerto album" which also has the G minor on it. (plus the Double Concerto played w/her brother, if that interests you)

September 15, 2004 at 04:38 PM · Of all recordings I've ever heard (Mintz, Heifetz, Hahn, Milstein, Szeryng)my absolute favorite is the one by Szeryng. I don't like Milsteins sound, it's so scratchy. Mintz seems to have intonational problems. Heifetz and Hahn are fine in their own kind.

Szeryng has a beautyful sound, perfect intonation and his interpretation fits best with my own (which is of course quite influenced by him),so, that's my opinion.

September 15, 2004 at 04:43 PM · *should have specified: Milstein's later recording, on DG

September 15, 2004 at 07:14 PM · I vote for Szering also--he is the tops for the solo Bach.

September 15, 2004 at 10:54 PM · Szeryng, by all means.

Funny thing though, I just bought a double CD with Enesco performing the Sonatas and Partitas. Can't wait to hear them.

September 16, 2004 at 05:08 AM · Yes, Szeryng is the best, but, what is your opinions about Gidon Kremer and "his" Bach?

September 16, 2004 at 07:27 AM · havent heard his...i will side with Szeryng's Bach recordings as the top quality. He has every strong point...flawless intonation, control over dynamics, and a real sense of what Bach should sound like in my opinion

September 16, 2004 at 08:16 AM · I don't suppose I could officially vote, since I only have Szeryng's, but his Bach makes me cry. It is beautiful.

September 16, 2004 at 08:22 AM · One more vote for Szerying. I also like Perlman and Milstein, but Szerying is definitely the one to study.

September 16, 2004 at 09:37 AM · Ok, I stand out as different this time.

I think that Szeryng is boring. I rather listen to Milstein's capitol recording.

September 16, 2004 at 12:49 PM · Szeryng´s recording is remarkable about his very beautiful sound and excellent intonation. But, in my opinion, he plays Bach like a work from the romanticism (pay attention to his vibrato, (too much)intense sound and articulation). I have heard many recordings :Szeryng, Milstein, Heifetz, Francescatti, Szigeti, Enesco, Menuhin, Vegh, Novotny, Zehetmair, Suk, Perlman, etc., and probably, for me, my favourite reference is Grumiaux. What a wonderful articulation and expressive (but not excessive) sound! I like at all! Of course, this is a personal opinion. Indoubtelly Szeryng was a superb performer.

September 16, 2004 at 04:57 PM · I have many recordings, but when I listen to Szeryng's, I think to myself, "This is what God would sound like if he played the violin." Not that I'm a religious person either.

September 16, 2004 at 07:03 PM · Is Lara St. John's 'topless' album actually good? I saw it in the record stores when it came out (I was mid-teens), but I had a hard time taking her seriously after that little stunt. Mind you, I was very interested in topless women--but I didn't see what that had to do with the S/P.

September 16, 2004 at 08:49 PM · i agree with mattias actually, szeryng doesnt get me very engaged.

September 16, 2004 at 09:09 PM · I like Lara's Bach.

September 17, 2004 at 12:23 AM · I'm sure Laurie's recording would be the best. But as far as the available recordings go, depending which specific movements of Bach you want to listen to, the two Milstein recordings are the ones that come closest to being perfect. But that has one exception and that is the Gminor Fuga of which the best recording is Szeryng's.

September 17, 2004 at 12:31 AM · I hate to be a heretic (actually I love it); I enjoy Menuhin's recordings of solo Bach, especially those he made later in his career. Oh, I suppose someone will say, "He was past his prime," but I don't care. He communicates, his playing transports me from pathos to joy and the deepest religiosity; his technical shortcomings are as of little import to me as seeing the momentary shadow of a boom in Citizen Kane. His musicianship grew as he aged, and while his earlier Paganini was more impetuous, his Bach continued to improve. (By the way, I do not believe that Elman's musicanship expanded even as his left-hand technique degenerated). And don't think for a second that he (Menuhin) didn't know that his playing had deteriorated technically. He was brave beyond measure to continue to share his ever-deepening musicality in spite of his technical shortcomings. How many violinists have that courage? (Stupidity? Not in his case.) I also enjoy the early (and late) Milstein very much indeed. Szerying does not move me emotionally although violinistically he is astounding. Re Szigeti, his later solo Bach playing is like listening to a reading of a stage play -- King Lear. Ideas are presented starkly and boldly; his playing is filled with declamatory statements spoken (played) by a man who, with a voice somewhat ravaged by age, is determined to most directly convey his highly committed and personal grasp of the playwright's (composer's) vision. And if anyone disagrees with me they are totally wrong, except for whoever is commenting next.

September 17, 2004 at 12:55 AM · Good point, Alan. And well written.

September 17, 2004 at 01:01 AM · Alan, I like Menuhin's Bach also--a lot--and I agree with what you said about how he communicated his musical ideas.

September 17, 2004 at 02:30 AM · Greetings,

Alan, for the reasons you elucidate so well abore my favorite Bach, heretically speaking, is Enesco- by a long way,



September 17, 2004 at 04:46 AM · Will revisit Enesco tonight. Hope my wife doesn't wake up.

September 17, 2004 at 04:57 AM · Greetings,

for Enesco, every wife should be woken. For everything else slumber may be better,



September 17, 2004 at 03:51 PM · It wouldn't be a bad idea to get a "historically informed" performed on a baroque fiddle as a supplement to your record collection. I like rachel podger's. Szeryng all the way.

September 17, 2004 at 04:03 PM · IMHO L. St. J.'s "topless Bach" album is great. I had seen it in stores and basically thought "oh how sad, is this what classical music has come to, this chick obviously must be really bad," etc... but later I heard her on the radio without knowing who it was and was spellbound. Gorgeous tone, an emotional yet disciplined approach to phrasing, and EXTREMELY lucid voice-leading, which is very important especially in the Chaconne and in the C major fugue.

But what impressed/impresses me most is listening to her "Gypsy" CD (not quite topless, just topless under a leather jacket) and realizing that it's the same player.

I think you can hear excerpts at her website, Or very short ones at take a few minutes and decide for yourself.

September 17, 2004 at 04:19 PM · With all the talk about Bach, I'm suprised Monica Huggett's name didn't come up. She's one of the best Baroque violinist I've ever seen.

September 19, 2004 at 12:51 AM · which recording do you think is best for the Sonata No. 3? What do you guys think of Michael Rabin's recording of it?

September 19, 2004 at 03:02 AM · I think that Szeryng excells in many ways, his fugues are certainly one of the best playing, but in some sections where theres no double stopping, just equal notes like the last movement of Sonata no.3, he just doesn't get the same message across as Milstein does, however the Bach Sonatas and Partitas are a very personal collection and that's exactly why they're so special. Interpretation can range from the acknoledged greatness of Szeryng and Milstein and a few others, to the worst ear-spliting, sickening sssssound that you've ever had the misfortune to hear.

In a way, they are very much like the Beethoven Concerto.

September 19, 2004 at 07:44 PM · Alan and Buri, I totally agree, and Alan, if your wife was woken up, I hope she realises what a good cause it was for. Unfortunately, there are some who hear Enesco (and Menuhin) and can't get past the odd scratch or not quite clinical chord. It's their loss. Szeryng is fantastically accomplished and really academic, that's why he bores some of us. The fact that Bach is spiritual seems to lead people to believe that he should be treated with some kind of dehumanizing reverence. Milstein dares to take risks and to be free. And for those who prefer the aristocratic approach, James Ehnes's recording shows that impeccable clarity and majesty do not need to abolish deep emotion.

PS: Oh for more strange musical minds like Szigeti's (Although my memory of his late Bach is that it's not overall his most convincing) achievement)

September 20, 2004 at 01:44 AM · Favorite recordings include Grumiaux, Ehnes and Lara St. John. I think the exciting thing about Bach is everyone plays it differently and notices different things about the works that jump out at them and that they want to do something with. When I learned the E major preludio probably the most often heard of the S/P's, I looked at the score before listening to a recording and towards the end of the 3rd page there was this descending line that jumped out at me, I circled the notes in that line and have formed a personal attachment to that line, and though I hear a hint of it in some of the recordings I've listened to, I have yet to hear it the way I hear it in my head. Bach is so originaly, and so personal, and we spend a lifetime trying to fully understand and master these works that were written by such an amazing composer.

September 20, 2004 at 09:29 PM · Too bad Vanguard never released the Szigeti topless set.

September 20, 2004 at 09:41 PM · actually they did, i have it, its pretty rare but worth the trouble to get it

September 20, 2004 at 11:53 PM · Greetings,

if you mean his hair, it is freely available.



September 22, 2004 at 11:20 PM · szeryng's 1959 recording was my favourite for years. right now i prefer grumiaux's even though i realized he used compression on his violin and he did punch-ins and punch-outs on some pieces.

i've heard sigiswalk kuijken's sonatas and partitas for baroque instruments a long time ago and they did nothing for me. i much prefer modern interpretations.

perlman's s&p didn't do much for me. i hated shlomo mintz's; too dry. minuhin's late ones were interesting, especially in the first partita where he took a couple of movements at half tempo. that's much more logical to play because it balances out the movement's double with the original. i've never heard anyone else do it that way but when i play them i always do it like that now and it fits perfectly.

arnold steinhardt and viktoria mullova also have fantastic individual sonatas and partitas.

ps. i've never heard any violinist play the presto from the g minor properly. it's in 3/8 but most people play it as if it was in 2/4 with triplets.

September 23, 2004 at 07:26 AM · yeah that bothers me. its three beats per measure Q#$@#!

September 23, 2004 at 07:57 AM · Greetings,

that criticism of the presto is interesting.

This is just my ear, but I think Grumiaux was veyr cosnicois of thetension between three and two that can be created and he plays some of the passages one way and some the other. That fascinates me..



September 23, 2004 at 09:08 AM · To me, The number and dots in Bach is not the music.

September 23, 2004 at 09:58 PM · Has anybody here listened to Lara St. John's "Re: Bach" album? Comments?

September 23, 2004 at 03:32 PM · If you like new age and pop, you might like it, since it is not classical music anymore.

September 23, 2004 at 05:41 PM · What? The Lara St. John Bach album is totally straight-up, nothing new-agey or pop about it. I'm confused.

September 23, 2004 at 06:08 PM · Well, like everything else, interpretation makes progress. Heifetz and Milstein and so on, I'm sorry that I have to say it, are dead! There are new, fresh, young violinists on the stage now and we can't just criticise them all the time for new ideas.

September 23, 2004 at 08:05 PM · Laurie, I'm answering the question about her new Re Bach album with indian singers and tablas and synthisizhers :)

September 23, 2004 at 09:44 PM · I actually kind of enjoyed what Lara St. John did with her Re: Bach album. Not my first choice of what I'd pick up when shopping for a classical album, but I think it's at least good playing and done in a creative way that will hopefully bring people to buying her traditional albums and get more people hooked on classical!

September 24, 2004 at 04:59 AM · Ahhhhhh. Mmmmmmm. Yes, now I understand. They play that kind of stuff in my yoga class.

September 24, 2004 at 09:00 PM · blah.

September 25, 2004 at 02:09 AM · Young Menuhin!

December 23, 2004 at 06:30 PM · What are the great newer recordings? There hasn't been any discussion of the engineering aspects here.

I would love to have any version with a realistic crystalline, sparkly violin. Most recorded performances of the music are good ones, but none that I know of really sound right.

Which version has the sound I described?

December 24, 2004 at 08:25 AM · What is a realistic, crystalline sound? My, my... editors can make anyone sound like that. There are 600 edits in Perlman's Bach (heard it directly from the producer). With digital machines you can punch in every note if you have to.

Milstein's DG recording sounds EXACTLY the way he played it all the way up to his last performance. The greatest Bach ever. No one else can separate the bass from the other lines like that.

A crystalline sound does not a musician make...


December 24, 2004 at 02:23 PM · When it comes to recording, there are two extremes. On one extreme, one tries to make a completely authentic recording using the most neutral mics and preamps with no cuts, no edits, no added effects (e.g. reverb, compression, EQ). On the other extreme, one tries to beat the recording into a performance that one wants with all the tools at one's disposal. But I think it's safe to say that most recordings fall somewhere between these two extremes, with classical being closer to the former and pop music closer to the latter in general.

BTW, 600 edits for over 120 minutes of music are not a lot. I have made over 50 post-recording edits on a 5 minute vocal of a pop song before. And this is with a reasonably good singer who sang a few good (but not perfect) takes. Anyway, I have digressed. There is already another thread discussing/debating the merits of editing in classical recording.

Re: Jim's question. First of all, I have only listened to the recordings of Szeryng's, Grumiaux's and Heifeitz's extensively. To my ears, Szeryng's recording sounds most pleasantly natural. (It doesn't mean that there was no processing. It's just that the processing doesn't stand out. The digitally remastered version is made more spacious as mentioned on the CD cover. But it is quite subtle and is done with good taste IMO.) Heifeitz's is very realistic, in the sense that it's how he would sound like if you were to listen to him standing 2 feet away (or maybe less). Grumiaux's recording has too much high end (and too much reverb) for me. I cannot play it at the same volume as Szeryng's or it hurts my ears. I like Grumiaux's playing but I need to put it through an EQ when I listen to it.

I guess I haven't answered your question, Jim. But it really depends on what you mean by sparkly. If you're looking for this unmistakable sheen on many pop albums these days, then you probably won't find it in the majority of classical recordings. Most pop music gets a boost in the high frequencies to give it "air". (In fact, many vocal mics automatically hype the high ends.)

Interpretations aside, I find Szeryng's to be a very good recording. How far is it from your what you're looking for?

December 24, 2004 at 06:07 PM · how can you say "interpretations aside" in reference to a bach performance, what else is there?

December 24, 2004 at 06:40 PM · Owen, I was just refering to the sound quality. For example, one can have a very good recording of a very bad performance.

December 24, 2004 at 09:36 PM · oh i see.

December 25, 2004 at 05:11 AM · Hi Lisa and Kevin. For what I mean by realistic, crystalline sound, think of the sound of a good, professional violin section in a good hall, and then think of the times you've heard individual violinists making approximately the same sound by themselves.

I can run a console and use Protools, so I know what you mean about editing. I've had the Milstein recordings for a long, long time, and they've been my favorites. Musically they're fine, though the first one is from an edition with mistakes(Helmesberger, I think I figured out once). When you say "exactly" do you mean there are no splices? Just a question, I don't know.

The problem with them for me is that they have too much echo. I want more of the direct sound, I think. I never heard Milstein live, so I don't know.

Incidently, last night I went to Amazon and listened to clips of versions I wasn't familiar with. It was interesting. Still didn't hear what I wanted though. But I can't blame it on the players, probably.

December 25, 2004 at 02:42 PM · Hi Jim,

Concert halls can be quite reverberant. In the film The Art of Violin, there is a clip of Milstein playing live the last mov't of the C major Sonata. It sounds VERY echoey.

I think Szeryng's recording has quite a direct sound. It is not loaded with reverb. Or is it still far from what you're looking for?

December 25, 2004 at 07:28 PM · i love bach with that kind of resonance. The chords really jump out at you, the harmonic genius is all that much more obvious that way.

December 25, 2004 at 09:54 PM · Hi Kevin:

To my mind, 600 edits in 143 minutes of music is quite a lot for one of the greatest violinists around. There is no comparison between him and a passable pop artist - or even to the recording technique used for both.


There is no way a solo violin can sound like a violin section. I wonder whether you were referring to a live sound or recorded one when you made that statement? It seems from your wording that it was a recorded sound. If that were the case, I would highly recommend going to more live performances. They sound different than recordings.

As for what I meant by "exactly" was just that - Milstein's live performances sounded exactly like his recordings. He made an especially resonant sound. A recording of a solo violin shouldn't have any reverb. When I was working as a co-producer we never added reverb to anything. But the mike placement would be worked out to pick up the resonance of the violin in the room in such a way as to make it realistic. Of course, a solo violin recording is made with only the violinist in the room. And a violin sounds different alone in a room/hall than it sounds with a full audience there. But the resonance is the same. I'm sure your ear can distinguish between the sound of the room and the sound of the violin. The sound of Milstein in his recording is exactly his direct sound in an empty room.

And I just have to add that his musical interpretation is far more than "fine." ;-)

Also, can I add that if you are dissatisfied with much of the recorded sound you hear from violinists, I would go to more concerts and hear what violinists sound like. You are focusing your listening on the wrong things. Rather than taking a "far away" perspective with your ears, step closer, so to speak. Listen to the tone coming out of the violin and the way the player uses it. Then you will be hearing a realistic sound rather than the sound from the recording.


December 25, 2004 at 10:41 PM · kreisler rabin and oistrakh recorded a little bach, all treasures in addition to what everyone already mentioned

my favorites are young milstein, szeryng, perlman, ehnes grumiaux, and podger. Podger's is very unique, I think she has many fresh ideas.

December 26, 2004 at 10:46 AM · Hi Lisa,

Since you heard the figure 600 directly from the producer, maybe you can give us an idea on how that figure came about. Were there 600 spots that required fixing? Or were 600 editing operations made to obtain the final cut? If it is the former, then I agree it is way too high for ANY recording artist. If it is the latter, then the number 600 doesn't mean much without some qualifying information. For example, replacing a bar from another take can take up to 10 operations, depending on the software you use: identifying cut-off points (up to 4 ops), dragging the replacement into the right place (1-2 ops), fixing time gaps (1 op), volume adjustment (1 or more ops), EQ (1 or more ops) to smooth things out, compression (1 or more ops). If things were counted this way, then it doesn't take too many sour spots to tally up to 600.

So I'm curious about the following:

1) How were the edits counted?

2) What percentages were the edits for a) obvious blunders b) not obvious blunders c) artistic decisions?

3) Who decided to put in those edits?

Knowing the answers to these will help the readers to put the number 600 into proper perspective.

> A recording of a solo violin shouldn't have any [added] reverb.

I wonder how much of the reverb in Perman's Bach is actually natural. The sound clips that I heard on have tonnes of reverb. If it is all natural, then the editing might have been quite painful.

December 27, 2004 at 12:33 AM · Kevin:

True.. edits on solo violin in an empty reverberent room could be quite difficult, although digital makes it much easier.

I don't know the answers to your questions. What I was told was there were 600 edits and the pages of the violin part were filled with the red edit marks.

I have to say that this is not because of the quality of the violinist. Editing can be to make a performance flawless or to make a performer sound like they can play! The real test is a live performance. I cannot stress enough to young violinists if they like a recording to GO SEE THAT PLAYER LIVE! Recordings are not realistic anymore and haven't been for some time.

And, it is often not a matter of replacing a bad bar or two - it is a matter of note by note editing. The decisions are usually made by the producer or co-producer and they are either technical or artistic - leaving the final say in the hands of someone other than the performer.

When I was editing in New York, we would make a chart of all the measures and all the takes in those measures and then give them a 10 point rating. Each attempt at editing (not always successful due to numbers of factors) was to get technical skill there first (intonation, correct notes, dynamics, etc.) and artistic second. I imagine with a great artist, you'd be working on artistic perfection first and technical glitches second.

In the recordings I edited/co-produced it was not uncommon to punch in every note. I came away from that experience very discouraged about allll the years I had sweated blood to emulate recorded artists (which fortunately I'd mostly had the opportunity to hear live) only to find out that those dearly held performances were for the most part completely manufactured. It was a level of perfectionism that I had held as a pressure on myself for many years and that was destroyed in the crushing reality of knowing what really happened on a recording. It is a eye-opening experience I think every serious student should get to have. After that, I came away with a very different perspective on what good playing and good artistry was.


December 27, 2004 at 02:05 PM · Hi,

Lisa I agree wholeheatedly! As for the editing, some people hate it, some have a fetish. Take Glenn Gould's second set of the Goldberg. Hundreds and hundreds of edits to get the artistic perfection he sought! And Heifetz, well, according to his engineer John Pfeiffer, he hated edits and did minimal ones.

If you want to hear an artist then, live recordings are best in my opinion.

As for the original question, this is an odd comment, but everyone approaches Bach differently and many different approaches can be good IMHO. Szeryng, Milstein, Grumiaux are all great. Great sense of lines, and they highlight different details. For me a good Bach is one that is tasteful, well-thought out, and has a good balance of line and harmonic rhythm. Odd criterias, but really what I think the music is about. Just a thought...

Cheers everyone!

December 27, 2004 at 02:46 PM · I think Christian makes a good point. The beauty of Bach's S&Ps is that they are so complex, interesting, and open to interpretation. While I happen to prefer Szeryng (and own two versions or his Bach as well as one of Milstein's for everyday listening), it is unusual for me to hear a version that fails to teach me something new about the S&Ps.

December 27, 2004 at 06:08 PM · My favourites are exactly the same as Scott68's (good taste as usual, Scott!).


December 27, 2004 at 05:59 PM · Hi Lisa,

You wrote

> In the recordings I edited/co-produced it was not uncommon to punch in every note.

Every note? I guess there must have been lots of time and $$$ allotted for the projects. :)

I'm a bit curious. What was the piece? How good were the players? If you had to punch in every note, wouldn't it have been easier to make some samples using a sampler and play them from the sampler instead?

I think in a few years, we'll see recordings of Bach's S&Ps on sampled violins as recordings of MIDI piano performances of some classical work using high-quality piano samples have been around for a few years.

December 27, 2004 at 06:55 PM · I dont get how you could edit in multiple performances of the bach. mine are so different every time, it would be a frankenstein sonata if you combined multiple performances.

December 27, 2004 at 07:01 PM · Kevin:

Yes, it took many, many hours alone in a black room listening to take after take over and over to pick out the best few notes at a time. Yuck. It was a very depressing job.

And yes, it costs a lot of money to make a good recording. Many of the lesser known artists foot the bill themselves or find investors.

The music was a variety from solo piano to chamber music of various combos. I won't say the players here or the pieces, but my name is listed as co-producer on the albums that made it to print. Good luck finding them. I was told by the owner of the studio that had I stayed doing that work, I would have been one of the most requested editors in NY because of how good I made the players sound! LOL Yuck again.

I don't know what a sampler is, sorry.

I think you are still having the wrong idea about these edits. Yes, a lot were for bad playing - in terms of string players: out of tune, inadequate ensemble playing, messy attacks and endings, etc., but, on my part, looking at a score, many were to "create" the "best performance" from a number of takes.

I also listened to a conductor friend of mine record several albums with the London Symphony and I would sit with a score and let him know where measures and passages were not covered adequately in the takes to give the editor enough material to work with to make a "good performance."

A performer will tape a passage a number of times. A producer is sitting in the booth with the score making sure the takes cover each bar played well. If there is a slip, bad intonation, messy starts or stops, etc. then they will do another take to make sure everything is covered. When I was working on the artists I edited, there were as many as 10 to 15 takes for each passage. That is why we made a chart "rating" each bar of each take. That way I could refer back and take less time when I was looking for a piece of something to stick in.

The goal is first to create as much of a flawless technical performance as possible. That is what I was talking about when I said that I was crushed to learn that the technical perfection I had strived for all those years studying and comparing myself to recordings was really totally manufactured. Recordings are a FALSE world.

Glenn Gould used the possibility of editing to create musical performances - to get exactly what was in his mind about the music. That is a kind of creative endeavor that is NOT what I was doing.

After getting the best technical performance an editor can get with the material at hand, then you consider whether another take would have been more musical, or more what the performer had in mind. Then it is a matter of trying to balance the question of whether it is better to have a minor imperfection with a better musical performance, or better to have it flawless. It is always a balancing act.

Also, you have the point that Owen made: that the takes may not match in terms of tempo, intonation (actual pitch tuned to), reverb in the room, etc. That is what makes it hard and makes a number of critical decisions necessary. It certainly takes the idealism of music out of the picture though. As I said, yuck!


December 27, 2004 at 07:45 PM · Thanks Carl

funny how we like the same violinists

December 28, 2004 at 06:16 AM · I was rereading this thread, and i noticed the late menuhin post. Its funny, people are so quick to dismiss his later years because his technique was falling apart. Lets not forget however that his musical maturity grew from his younger years (fancy that), I believe he still had an incredible musical mind, if perhaps not the technique to accomplish it with. Lots of people like to dis his bach at the end of the art of the violin but i loved it, its similiar to how i would imagine i would play that piece.

December 28, 2004 at 08:21 AM · Greetings,

Owen, I was deeply touched by that Bach too.



December 28, 2004 at 12:38 PM · My favorite is Itzhak Perlman's EMI double CD of Bach's Sonatas & Partitas; they sound so strong, "brilliant" but unhurried. On the other hand, I'm just wondering how much of this "perfection" is Perlman's own genius and not the electronic wizardry produced by the studio magicians with all their splicing, re-editing and over-lays. I would love to hear Perlman play some of these pieces "live" so as to have the opportunity to compare. Yehudi Menuhin's version is too free for my tastes - ha!, maybe he could have used some of these studio wizards; I would have loved to hear David Oistrakh play these pieces, but ...alas, this was not to be, though Nathan Milstein [as I've read above] sounds spectacular.

December 28, 2004 at 02:57 PM · The comments about the old(er) Menuhin's deteriorated technique and matured musicianship led me think that recording technology permits us to do something that couldn't be done before; that is, allowing someone who doesn't or no longer has perfect technique to get musical ideas across. Of course, just like any other tool, recording tech can be abused.

But what I'm saying is this: if I have some very good ideas on the S&P (or other works) but no longer have the technique to pull them off in real time, what are my options? I can think of three. 1) carry those ideas to my grave. 2) pay/ask someone else (most likely a student) to do it. 3) use recrding technology to put together the performance I envisioned.

I don't know if this is the case with Perlman's Bach. But if his recording is as close to what he wanted it to sound as things permit, then I don't care if 6 splices or 60,000 splices were made. After all, when I listen to a recording, I listen to the music, not so much the performer.

I also liked Menuhin's chaconne at the end of The Art of Violin. More than Szeryng's, in fact. BTW, does anyone know if the entire chaconne is on video/CD somewhere?

December 28, 2004 at 05:09 PM · regarding bach on video

you can get the menuhin video with complete chaconne as seen on the art of violin here

There is also the milstein dvd

the szeryng dvd has g min fugue

the zukerman vhs here to make music has half of the d min adagio

heifetz in performacce has the chaconne

the ricci vhs ricci on tv vol 2 has d min sarabande and gigue, you can get it at

December 28, 2004 at 07:35 PM · Kevin,

you can still play it its just that there will be some errors. The ideas will likely come across even if the perforamance has technical flaws.

December 28, 2004 at 09:56 PM · Greetings,

Perlman perfromed the full Monty of Bach in two concerts for the BBC about 25 years ago. It would have made a perfect record- nothign added, nothing taken away,



December 28, 2004 at 11:39 PM · i wonder if we could track it down.

December 29, 2004 at 04:18 PM · Buri,

does that mean he ended the concert sans G-string?

December 29, 2004 at 05:39 PM · Yikes perlman in a g string?


December 29, 2004 at 06:37 PM · no, SANS g-string.

December 29, 2004 at 11:01 PM · Greetings,

Mike, don"t remember. I think I was asleep.



December 31, 2004 at 12:26 AM · Lisa,

I didn't mean literally the same sound (violinist vs. a section). I was trying to plant a particular sound in somebody's head. I was referring to either good live or good recorded sound.

The editing you were working on - was it your tracks, or were you involved in just the production? It sounds like you didn't enjoy it, but that sort of stuff is great fun to me. I can get so involved in it I have to force myself to eat and sleep.

December 31, 2004 at 04:30 PM · I'm a little late to this discussion, but my favorite Partitas & Sonatas are done by Nathan Milstein and Rachael Podger.

Podger's, incidentally, has some of the best recorded sound I've ever hear for a solo violin - reverberant, yet clear.

January 1, 2005 at 03:11 AM · Jim:

No, it was for other artists. I was employed as co-producer. I hated it because I felt like I was participating in hypocrisy. The artists I was editing could not play one phrase well to save their souls. That is why it is sooo important to hear live performances.

I'm glad you can enjoy it! :0)


January 2, 2005 at 07:31 AM · Hi Lisa,

The way I think of it as soon as they start positioning the mics, another element enters the collaboration of musician, instrument maker, etc. And nobody, starting with the audience, is going to let an out of tune note stay in the mix, and it's no sin. The very first recordings consisted of multiple unedited takes until somebody decided they had a rendition which would show everybody with their best foot forward, and do something in the marketplace. People have some sense that notes get punched in, and that Jane Supermodel gets a little Photoshop.

I love live performances and wish there were more around here. My original thought on this thread was that the engineer on all the versions of these pieces I've heard wasn't holding up his end of the collaboration. They're making undetectable edits, but they aren't mic'ing right, and I gotta hear that. I need to hear that. Bad.


I tried Amazon for Rachael Podger but they didn't have clips of her. She uses a baroque violin. I noticed a baroque violin version I liked there by Lucy Van Dael. There are clips of it there. I'm going to buy the version by Rebekah Johnson because of the playing.

January 16, 2005 at 03:43 AM · Milstein's 1973 DG set is the best Bach CD set. I have about 20 sets... maybe more. He, himself, said his second recording was more mature, profound and inventive.. ( The first set follows stricter rhythms and is wanders less from the traditional school, but his second set is "free" and more natural).

Szeryng, and Grumiaux are also not to be faulted. Hilary Hahn has good Bach playing style... perhaps she will record them later on down the line... but one contemporary Violinist who will record them soon on SACD is Julia Fischer... and that should be pretty good.

I don't like Authentic instruments.. they are usually played without linear singing phrases... the sound comes and goes, and generally makes the listener sea sick.. or very bored from the artificial ( read "authentic" ) swelling which never seems to serve a musical purpose... only their claim to "authenticity".

A few like Kremer on Philips, Kagan and Suske or Suk or older ones like Vegh are also fine recordings in their own right. Mullova changed her Bach playing, trying to suck up to the philological movement, unfortunately so now it sucks, but her first B minor Partita on Philips is actually excellent.

These are just my choices, but boy do I feel Milstein is the best.... I have been listening to them for 30 years... almost non stop... and I'm not bored yet....

R Herrera, UK

January 16, 2005 at 09:14 AM · I don't really like Menuhins recordings he made 1954, but I saw an excerpt (video) from Gstaad 1972, playing the Chaconne, and it was the best performance I've ever seen. Fast, but very inspiring.

I also like the Hilary Hahn recording very much. Last week I saw her play the Largo from the C Sonata and she has improved A LOT.

I hope she is going to record them again in like 10 or 20 years. I'm sure it will be terrific.

January 16, 2005 at 09:15 PM · Yeah Menuhin at the end of the art of the violin video is amazing. I listened to his young recording of it and to me it didn't sound like his phrasing had changed that much.

January 17, 2005 at 08:04 PM · Does anyone know if the Chaconne by Menuhin 1972 (as mentioned above) is available on cd? I've been looking for it quite a lot, but without success.

January 22, 2005 at 02:28 AM · Hi everyone. When I first discovered the Sonatas and Partitas a long time ago, I thought Szeryng was the non plus ultra. Today I slightly prefer Grumiaux, although I think that both performances are very "pure" in sound, reverent but not excessively so, and technically proficient. But I must say that my favourite record of the S and P is the one by Mintz. I think that, in addition to having inhuman technical perfection and athleticism, that his performance is very involved and thoughtful. Some accuse him of "romanticism" but I don't find this at all; by contrast, he reminds me of Szeryng in many respects. What clinched it for me was the climax (you know the part) in the Ciaccona; when he hit that bar, it just broke my heart, as any good Ciaccona should. Although I have since heard Hilary Hahn and I think her performance is commendable also. Maybe I am just uncritical.

January 22, 2005 at 08:08 AM · Mark,

Which climax do you mean? The one before the D major section, the one before the second D minor section, or the one at the end?


January 25, 2005 at 07:28 AM · I like different aspects of almost all of the violinists mentioned on this page. Grumiaux, in my opinion, is one of the best recordings of unaccompanied Bach out there. I would say that his recording is the one which influences my own interpretations of Bach the most. One performer that I think has some very interesting and well thought-out recordings of Bach (as well as most everything else he has done) is Gidon Kremer, which I was surprised nobody has mentioned on here yet. If you haven't heard them, I recommend them highly, especially if you enjoy hearing something different.

If I could hear any performer play Bach it would be David Oistrakh, who is my favorite violinist of all time. However, he once said that he thought unaccompanied Bach was too difficult to record. A modern violinist I would love to hear play Bach is Leonidas Kavakos. He is not quite as famous in the United States, however I have been extremely pleased with everything I have ever heard him play. He plays very clean, extremely clear, and has an absolutely amazing sound, unparalleled in my mind. If you get the chance to listen to something of his, go for it. He has a wonderful recording of the Sibelius Conterto out in the original version and in the revised version.

April 10, 2005 at 10:27 AM · I would like to hear Ilya Gringolts in an interpretation of Bach's violin solo pieces. He is a great, young violinist with undoubtedly a big future. Until now, Itzhak Perlman is my favorite; he isn't as nervous in his playing as Milstein, he is more "steady", more controlled, which makes come out more the transcendental dimension of the music.

April 10, 2005 at 11:27 AM · Greetings,

Jan, I have to confess that after relentless listenign to Milstein's Bach I am unable to detcet a trace of nervousness. Not exactly sure what you meant.

Mr Gringolts has released a recording of Unaccompanied Bach I think.



April 10, 2005 at 12:06 PM · Buri - compare Milstein's Capitol recording with the DG for us if you've heard them both relentlessly, before the thread destructs in four more posts.

I wish Lara St. John would finish the set. I can't figure out what's up with her.

April 10, 2005 at 08:51 PM · Hi,

Yes, Ilya Gringolts has released a CD of unaccompanied Bach, though he said that his interpretations have changed since then.

One recent addition to the catalog not to be missed is the version by Rachel Podger (on baroque violin) which is really quite outstanding.

I have never noticed any nervousness in Milstein's Bach recordings also... hmmm...

As for Lara St.John, it's simple Jim: She doesn't have a recording contract at the moment. Most companies have cancelled exclusive contracts, except with a few artists.


April 10, 2005 at 10:36 PM · I haven't listened to all of Grumiaux's Sonatas and Partitas but I heard him play the Chaconne and Sarbande of the D minor from his DVD and so far I think he plays them the best.

April 11, 2005 at 09:16 AM · Jim, in case Buri doesn't make it in time...

I think the DG recording is the far more mature performance. I prefer it.


April 11, 2005 at 11:42 AM · "As for Lara St.John, it's simple Jim: She doesn't have a recording contract at the moment. Most companies have cancelled exclusive contracts, except with a few artists."

What no more records from anybody then? Anyway I think she's got some contract with Sony Classical at the moment. Answer by editing your posts and putting the date above it. That;s how we communicated in the Hanoi hilton.

Bang, end of thread.

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