Wonderful Bach Concertos with Isabelle Faust

Isabelle Faust

I mentioned two blog posts ago that I’m a fanboy. I’m a fanboy of Igor Levit, of Murray Perahia, of Sabine Deviehle, but probably one of my favorite artists these days is Isabelle Faust.

I’ve reviewed her countless time on this blog, playing Bach, Mozart, Brahms (here and here), Beethoven. And there are other albums I could have mentioned as well.

The only time I was ever disappointed by a recording by Isabelle Faust was her version of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto with Pablo Heras-Casado.

Therefore, when I went on my “quest” last year to see all of my favorite violin players in one year, I obviously had to go for Alina Ibragimova, Janine Jansen, Lisa Batiashvili, Julia Fischer, and yes, maybe the queen of all, Isabelle Faust. I was very lucky I managed to squeeze all of these live performances into one year.

Isabelle Faust offered one of my preferred programs (I saw her on Lake Geneva last summer during the festival at Château de Tannay), playing exclusively Bach. The program included some of the violin concertos, but also some chamber works. The concert (only slightly spoiled by being in the main air corridor towards Geneva airport) was not surprisingly hugely enjoyable.

So what a pleasure it was when I saw that Faust just released a very similar program on Harmonia Mundi

Bach: Violin Concertos – Isabelle Faust – Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (Harmonia Mundi 2019)

Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Concertos Sinfonias Overture Sonatas Isabelle Faust Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin Bernhard Forck, Xenia Loeffler Harmonia Mundi 2019

Isabelle Faust had recorded the violin concertos previously around the year 2000, with Helmut Rilling for the Hänssler label (included in their complete Bach edition). Already this recording was really very nice.

But here it get’s even better. The keywords here are precision, balance, and a complete lack of showmanship. This is one of the most introvert recordings of these concertos that I’ve ever heard.

Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a lot of freedom with these works, at witnessed by the very beautiful recording of Alina Ibragimova with Arcangelo which I reviewed last year.

So this recording is the complete opposite. That said, I like it probably even a bit better. You really hear all the complexity of Bach’s counterpoint, the delicacy of the different instruments and their balance to form something bigger together. And Faust, just as she did in Tannay, wasn’t the star of the show, but really just one more musician as part of a team.

Another similarity to my Tannay experience is also that this album not only includes all violin concertos, including the reconstructed ones, but also one of the Orchestral Suites, several individual tracks such as the Sinfonia BWV1045, and some chamber music, the trio sonatas BWV 527 and 529. In total, you get nearly 2h30 of music.

If you like Bach and historically informed performance, this album is an absolute must have.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

UPDATE March 26: Listening to a recent Gramophone podcast where Gramophone speaks with Faust about this recording, I noticed I completely forgot to mention that Faust doesn’t play her typical Sleeping Beauty Stradivarius, but instead a German Steiner violin that Bach himself would have found familiar. In the interview she explained that this much better fits the ensemble sound than the Stradivarius, and that in general she really tries to be as close to what the composer intended as possible.

It is the same violin already used in the previous recording of the Bach violin sonatas (reviewed here).

In the podcast, the interviewer already said that the upcoming review of this album will be very positive. I’m not surprised.

UPDATE March 30: Classica likes it, but only gives it 4 stars, quoting the slightly remote sound quality, and the sometimes somewhat “martial” style of the orchestra. I can somewhat understand the first point, but don’t agree on the 2nd point.

Whereas Gramophone fully agrees with me and gives this album an “Editor’s Choice” in their April 2019 issue, calling it a “hugely enjoyable celebration of Bach”

Author: Musicophile

I'm not a professional musician, I don't work in the music industry, I'm just what the name says, somebody who loves music. I've been in love with music for all of my life, took piano lessons for nearly 10 years, and played in several amateur Jazz groups. I go to concerts, both classical and Jazz, quite regularly. And I collect music previously on vinyl and CDs, now on my computer, and am slightly OCD on my music collection. You can reach me at Musicophile1(AT)gmail.com

13 thoughts on “Wonderful Bach Concertos with Isabelle Faust”

  1. Just had a quick check.What a sound…Almost as thight as a rock band. Play it loud, it’s only Barock’n Roll * but I like it 😂 Yes Isabelle Faust is one of my favorites, with Amandine … Women only, seems no man is capable of fiidling today? 😱 Yesterday I discovered something else from a cellist I met at the Qeen Elisabeth contest, Bruno Philippe (whomI preferred amongst all others) and the good thing is he might not be a woman but he wears an earring… check him out ! Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Rachmaninov & Myaskovsky:par Bruno Philippe http://open.qobuz.com/album/g55biw0gxgsmb

    All the Best

    * this Bach repertoire I’ve already heard thousands times and yes I keep appreciating… but not everyday

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  2. Quote: “Alina Ibragimova, Janine Jansen, Lisa Batiashvili, Julia Fischer, and yes, maybe the queen of all, Isabelle Faust.”
    Yes, yes indeed to all those names, and to the one at the top. But here’s another name to add to the list: Lina Tur Bonet! Just watch one of those Youtube videos with her Musica Alchemica colleagues–what an artist, and what FUN she and they are having. Add Lina to the list.

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  3. Dear Musicophile
    I am no musician, I ´cannot even read notes. Music, for me, in the first place has to touch my heart and soul and then eventually may reach my brain, so please do not judge me all too hard for what I am to say hereafter. While I often, not to say for the most part, do share your views on classical recordings I have to say that this time I disagree. In no way do I question the skills of Isabelle Faust (how could I?) and neither her playing style in general. I do have several recordings with her I like very much, among others The Mozart Violin Concertos, The Bach Sonatas with Bezuídenhout. But this one really doesn’t do it for me. To me it seems that the only thing she’s interested in here is to get it over with as fast as possible in order to do something else. The tempis are absurdly fast, loosing any feeling for the composition. I remember you once asked the question if Bach is allowed to be played beautifully (the Vikingur Olafsson recording) I absolutely have to say YES to this. But this one really is not beautiful to my ears. It may be technically perfect ( I am not the one to judge this) and maybe even in a historically correct style, but in no way beautiful. I rather much prefer and enjoy Arthur Grumiaux with Edo de Wart and the New Philharmonia Orchestra on Philips/Decca despite of the somewhat inferior sound quality due to the recordings age. I hope you will have the time and opportunity to listen to the Grumiaux recording and comment on it.
    All the best
    Mani (“@masch” on Audiphile Style)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Manfred and thanks for your feedback. Just to be clear, there is no right or wrong in classical music. Here it seems to me that we’re discussing more certain philosophies of playing baroque music, one, the “traditional” style represented by the Grumiaux recording you like, and Faust and AKAMUS being at the other end with the “historically informed” or HIP movement. Whoever likes one style typically hates the other. Just FYI; my first recording ever of these works were an old Itzak Perlman recording with Barenboim. Today the traditional style totally bores me. I love the speed and energy of the HIP approach. Can I suggest one more recordings for you to check out, that are somewhere in between the extremes that you may like? Check out Janine Jansen’s 2013 album with the concertos, played with a small ensemble. Just wondering how you like this approach? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vXokJPUFoA

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      1. Hi again and please forgive me for not getting back to you earlier.
        I do hope you did not perceive my comment as some kind of criticism of your review. That has certainly not been my intention. We cannot all like the same things here in life, be it music, a performance, food or whatever else. And although I still have problems appreciating this recording I by no means hate it and I will even keep on listening to it. It could very well turn out that I shall discover similar things as you have, who knows? Despite of what I have said earlier I do try to always keep an open mind and learn more about different styles of how music can be performed.
        Thank you for the link to the Janine Jansen performance. I only had time to listen for a minute or two and spontaneously I would say that it sounds quite nice to my ears. I actually think it is a bit reminiscent of the Grumiaux recording. But I really should hold my horses until I have heard the whole thing.

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      2. Thanks Manfred. In any case, don’t feel obliged to like anything just because somebody said it’s good. Taste in music is something personal, and nobody has the absolute answers. And nicely enough, there’s enough to discover and like for everybody!

        By the way, two more recordings you may want to check out on top of Janine Jansen: Julia Fischer with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and Victoria Mullova with her own Mullova Ensemble.

        Both are somewhere in between the traditional and the HIP style. And both are presumably better recording quality than the old Grumiaux. And finally, let me throw in another joker, a recording that is typically love it or hate it, the quite recent recording of Alina Ibragimova with Arcangelo. I particularly like this recording (not as much as the Faust, but close). Let me know which one you prefer. All of them are good in their own way. You’ll find the first two on any streaming site, but Hyperion doesn’t stream, you’ll find an extract on Youtube:

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