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.
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)
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”