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GRAMOPHONE (05/2022)
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Reviewer :
Rob Cowan

While not wishing to brand this comely trio of performances a ‘throwback’, it does bring in its train a key question regarding Historically Informed Performance Practice (HIP), which Linus Roth’s approach most certainly isn’t, although he has experimented in that direction. Having heard and on occasion reviewed numerous recordings of these wonderful works that take the ‘period’ option, one consideration stands out above all: a tendency among those players to explore one or more of many colouristic routes, be they sparing vibrato, embellished repeats, attenuated phrasing, tonal astringency, echo effects with repeated motifs (here Roth very occasionally follows suit) or rhythmic freedom. Linus Roth’s playing more approximates, say, Nathan Milstein or Henryk Szeryng (both on DG), as is revealed by a quick comparison in the Sarabande from the First Partita, where minor stylistic differences aside from a common nobility and formality suggest a definite shared lineage. Turn then to Leonidas Kavakos (Sony, 3/22) and a paler countenance takes over, and with it a shift to the kind of period manners that I’ve been referring to. Fine playing, yes, but it calls on the same stringent rules that many others are also following.

Then there’s the Second Partita, where the Gigue has a winning lilt and the Chaconne (14'50"; Szeryng is 14'22") traces a glorious arch filled with deep feelings and meaningful associations, the arpeggiated passages especially well handled by Roth, the home straight mightily impressive. This is accomplished playing, with never a hint of grating ugliness and minimum shifts in tempo between one section and the next: you climb aboard and Roth charts a seamless course to your destination. The Prelude to the Third Partita finds Roth employing those aforementioned echo effects, whereas the Loure enjoys immaculately deployed trills.

This is the second volume of a set that covers all six of Bach’s works for solo violin. The first (EPRC0039), which contains the three Sonatas, is equally fine, its highlights being the self-accompanied Andante from the A minor work and a clearly voiced account of the fugue from the C major Sonata. And while I happily stick to my guns regarding the dazzling, colour-coded virtues of Roth’s many excellent period-savvy rivals (Kavakos, Faust, Carmignola, Ibragimova, Podger, Tetzlaff, Biondi, etc), I would say that if their way doesn’t always suit your taste – as it doesn’t always suit mine – then Linus Roth, alongside the more forceful but equally expressive James Ehnes (Onyx) offers something that’s fairly unusual among his digital rivals: straight-talking Bach with no agenda save for the music itself.

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