Thomas Zehetmair

Johann Sebastian Bach: Sei Solo - The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo

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Violinists will sometimes delay recording Johann Sebastian Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin until they feel they have mastered the music and even let it become second nature to them. Not so Thomas Zehetmair, who, with guidance from his mentor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, first recorded the Sei Solo in 1982 for Teldec, then waited almost four decades before revisiting them for ECM New Series. This time span has permitted Zehetmair sufficient space to reevaluate Bach's masterpiece and to present the music with a mature appreciation of its contrapuntal intricacy and expressive depth. Zehetmair played a modern violin for his early set, but for this 2019 double-disc, he plays two Baroque violins with replica bows: a 1685 South Tyrolean instrument for the partitas, and a ca. 1750 Joannes Udalricus Eberle for the sonatas. The sonorities he produces on these violins are subtly different, the 1685 contributing a bright edge to the partitas and the 1750 a warm resonance to the sonatas, all smoothed somewhat by the resonant acoustics of the priory church of St. Gerold in Austria. Zehetmair uses the sound space to determine dynamics and to shape his phrases, and his lines seem to float with an airiness that is rare in studio recordings. Even though the use of Baroque instruments and techniques may make this rendition seem like a historically informed performance, it is rather more of a personal take with thoughtful borrowings from period scholarship, a combination to be expected of one of classical music's most eclectic and versatile performers.

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