GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2019
JS Bach Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas, BWV1001‑1006 Giuliano Carmignola vn DG M b 483 5050GH2 (148’ • DDD)
Were I to append a subtitle to this memorable album it would be ‘the art of the bow’, the reason being that although DG’s recording comprehensively reports the tonal beauty of the 1733 Guarneri violin, it’s Giuliano Carmignola’s agile use of Emilio Slaviero’s 2007 bow (after an 18th-century model by Tourte) that really grabbed my attention. By that I mean pressure, types of arpeggio and articulation, and most especially dynamics, sometimes reducing his tone to the merest whisper.
The very first track on disc 1 immediately proves the point, the Adagio from the G minor Sonata, a gentle chord, initially rising before falling on an elegant trill, and proceeding through a performance that is flexible in the extreme. Turn then to Alina Ibragimova (a player who again stresses the importance of the bow) in the same passage and purity allied to a marginally less flexible manner of phrasing reminds us of what we’re listening to, namely a ‘period savvy’ approach to Bach. With Carmignola the period-modern divide vanishes; he employs the subtlest of ornaments (often used in partita repeats), inconspicuous curlicues that adorn the line without impediment. He’ll also alter the tempo for a point that demands special attention, for instance slowing from 1’37” into the G minor Fugue before cueing the lightest and liveliest of arpeggios. And where figurations are repeated, either ascending or descending (specifically in the sonata fugues), you sense how the rhetoric is working.
Carmignola’s imaginative articulation is tellingly illustrated in movements from the Second and Third Sonatas, the fugue of the former where purposeful attack and a well-oiled legato operate simultaneously, the Largo of the latter, so utterly quiet and where chords are barely brushed. The Chaconne from the D minor Partita emerges as a dignified processional, the tempo kept steady; the use of tonal colour is acute enough to compensate for an absence of expressive vibrato. Again varieties of articulation and dynamic are significant, and how refreshing to hear the closing bars played with restraint rather than aping a ‘grand finale’. Carmignola’s mastery of tonal colouring brings a burst of sunlight to the opening of the E major Partita’s Loure and the dance movements are dispatched with panache, the sort we’re used to from Carmignola’s performances with orchestra. The recorded sound is beautiful aside from the very occasional off‑mic groan or ‘knock’ – very distant, but if I don’t mention it someone else will.
This for me is a definite first choice among period-instrument recordings of these works, in spite of strong competition from, in particular, Rachel Podger. DG here maintains the gold standard that it has already established with Nathan Milstein, Henryk Szeryng and more recently Hilary Hahn, very different of course: they represent, in their different ways, the muchvaunted ‘old guard’. One also mustn’t forget the excellent Ibragimova and Ning Feng; but how inspiring to at last have access to a period recording of Bach’s solo violin works that is on the same exalted interpretative level as the masters of yore. Rob Cowan (2/19) Selected comparisons: Podger (7/99R, 12/99R) (CHCL) CCSSEL2498 Ibragimova (11/09) (HYPE) CDA67691/2 Feng (3/18) (CHCL) CCS39018
Beethoven Piano Sonatas – No 30, Op 109; No 31, Op 110; No 32, Op 111 Steven Osborne pf Hyperion F CDA68219 (64’ • DDD)
I was much looking forward to getting my hands on this CD, having chosen Steven
Osborne’s previous Beethoven sonata disc, featuring a dangerous and profound Hammerklavier, as my Critics’ Choice in 2016. From the first note, Osborne’s kinship with the composer is everywhere apparent and he conveys the vast contrasts of the last three sonatas unerringly. When I was doing a Building a Library on Op 109 last year for BBC Radio 3,
I was looking for a combination of wonder and fantasy that didn’t tip over into late Romanticism in the first movement, fearsome firepower without edge in the Prestissimo and a Classicism to the theme of the finale’s variations. And that is exactly what we get here. Sample Osborne’s way with the theme of the finale: it has an outward simplicity from which the variations can grow, yet listen more closely and you’ll detect the endlessly varied colourings and subtle changes of dynamics and phrasing, making the repeats truly developmental. Impressive too is the way the variations unfold with complete inevitability: from the octave right-hand leap in the first, which is given without mannerism, via the perfect accord between the hands in the dotted articulation of the second, which contrasts beautifully with the more extended line of the third. The fugue has an almost gleeful quality to it and the closing minutes, in which Beethoven envelops the line in trills, is very well gauged, leading to a reprise of the finale’s opening theme that is moving in its guilelessness. Altogether this performance is on a par with Richard Goode’s. What is particularly winning about this new set is the way Osborne occupies the very different world of each sonata with equal conviction, which is by no means always the case, even with indubitably great pianists. Uchida, for instance, convinces me far more in Op 109 than in Op 111. And last month I found Yevgeny Sudbin better in Op 110 than in the last sonata. He, however, completely pales alongside Osborne in Op 110. Just a few moments comparing the two in the second movement demonstrate the point: whereas Sudbin had a tendency for agogic distortions, Osborne has a fire-andbrimstone intensity to his playing. Even Levit, whom I much admire in all three sonatas, pales by comparison here. Lewis finds a similar sense of the extremes of the music, though he doesn’t relish the clipped fortissimo writing to quite the same degree. And in the Adagio ma non troppo momentum never sags, even though the sense of desolation is manifest. Here, and throughout, there’s a sense of Osborne simply letting the music sound, rather than imposing himself on it. The fugue starts unobtrusively and the outbursts of ire gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2019 25