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I recently watched a marvelous DVD featuring Latvian
violinist, Gidon Kremer (1947 – ). This 2006 release on the
EuroArts label is entitled “Gidon Kremer: Back to Bach.”
It’s a fitting title, because after recording the three Bach
“Partitas for Solo Violin” more than 20 years ago on the
Philips label, he returned to these works. His 2001
recording of these pieces was filmed at the Pfarrkirschen
St. Nicholas in Lockenhaus, Austria, which combined a
sumptuous, beautiful setting with a marvelous acoustic.

The Bach “Partitas,” along with the three “Sonatas for
Solo Violin” date from 1720 and by general consensus,
represent the pinnacle of the violin repertoire, solo or
otherwise. Unlike the “Sonatas,” the “Partitas” each
have more than four movements, and consist of a
sequence of various dance movements that adhere to
a specific formal model. Bach’s “Second Partita in D Minor”
ends with the famous and often-transcribed “Chaconne,”
which itself has a running time of more than 14 minutes.
The movement consists of a theme that is presented in
various guises, 64 times. The variations often involve
multi-stopped chords, thereby taxing the soloist to his
or her technical and emotional limit.

I found Kremer’s performances of these great works
to be among the most interesting and satisfying that
I’ve ever heard; not in the least because he was
unafraid to take risks with certain aspects of tone
production. The result was a wide palette of musical
colors, along with a concomitant drama that I found
lacking in other equally technically proficient performances
I’ve heard. Clearly, Kremer has reconsidered these works
over the years. While I must admit that I haven’t heard
his original 1979-1980 Philips recordings, I can’t imagine
that they were more probing!

In addition to these performances, there is an
accompanying 58-minute documentary about this project.
It includes footage of Kremer from the 1970’s, playing
alone and with other musicians. When interviewed,
he has an ample opportunity to share his ideas on
music in general, and Bach in particular. Directed by
Daniel Finkernagel and Alexander Lück, this insightful film
provides a behind-the-scenes look at the recording
process, as well as a glimpse into the mind of one of
the most sincere and fearless musicians of our time.
The sound quality of the performances was topnotch,
and I can recommend this two-hour and 12-minute DVD
without reservation.

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