Monday, 2 November 2015

Bach - Sonatas & Partitas Vol. 1 - Thile

Rating: 4/5

Virtuosic playing of great music

This is a fascinating and enjoyable take on some of Bach's solo violin works, played quite brilliantly on the mandolin.

Chris Thile has recorded largely folk- and jazz- based music hitherto, and the first thing to say is that this is no gimmick or novelty record: Thile is a serious musician and a real virtuoso on his instrument, and this is a genuine interpretation of Bach and not a "re-imagining" or "re-working."  Thile really respects and loves Bach's music and brings genuine thought, insight and musicianship to his playing of it.  There are some very affecting moments (the opening Allemande of Partita No.1 is lovely, for example) and full-on rollicking dancing Bach where appropriate.  I very much enjoyed the interpretations.

Thile's virtuosity is quite breathtaking in places (like the Double of the Corrente in Partita No.1) and his technique is so good that he can really let the music blossom under his fingers.  My reservation about this disc is not to do with the playing, which is superb throughout, but with the limitations of the instrument itself.  However good the player, the mandolin doesn't have the expressive capability of the violin and although I cannot imagine it being better played than this, to me it still lacks the emotional depth of a really good violin performance.  (I felt much the same about Avi Avital's excellent playing of Bach on the mandolin. )

You may not share my reservations, and even if you do I suggest you give this disc a try.  It's fascinating and enjoyable and, whatever the limitations of the instrument, it's a disc of fabulous music, beautifully played by a very fine musician and I can certainly recommend it.

For another brilliant non-violin version of some of the Bach Partitas and Sonatas, I warmly recommend Suzanne Heinrigh's recording on viola da gamba.  It's fantastic.

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