Itzhak Perlman, the supreme violinist of his time, performs the supreme works for unaccompanied violin. In preparing the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, Perlman sought authenticity through the score itself, not through musicological research: “Music is a language, and, performed responsively, with musical logic as guide, it will make sense.”
Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas are a landmark not only of the solo violin repertoire but of all music history. No composer before or since has created a comparable architectural miracle, or made better use of the violin’s polyphonic capabilities, than did Bach in this set of six works. The improvements in instrument-making introduced by such experts in the field as Niccolò Amati and his pupil Antonio Stradivari meant that performers and composers could now push the tone and power of the violin to bold new limits. The Second Partita also includes a Chaconne which appears to stand outside space and time. Its complexity, power and splendor make it in a way the keystone of the entire musical edifice — a magnificent set of variations on a single theme which exploits the violin’s full harmonic and contrapuntal potential. While the great virtuosos of the nineteenth century, Paganini chief among them, expanded the instrument’s technical capabilities, Bach had already established its limits in terms of polyphony.
Perlman made several earlier attempts at recording the set, none of which was ever released, then performed it live on stage at venues around the world. In other words, he had the wisdom to wait until he had achieved a level of excellence in both performing and understanding this music before committing it to disc. The most practised of ears may detect a subtle difference in tone between the C major and A minor Sonatas, which he recorded on the “Soil” Stradivarius, and the other four works, recorded on the Guarneri del Gesù “ex-Sauret”.