Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin
Sonata No.1 in G minor BWV 1001
Partita No.1 in B minor BWV 1002
Sonata No.2 in A minor BWV 1003
Partita No.2 in D minor BWV 1004
Sonata No.3 in C major BWV 1005
Partita No.3 in E major BWV 1006
Bojan Čičić (violin)
rec. 2021, Crichton Collegiate Church, Midlothian, UK
Delphian DCD34300 [2 CDs: 146]
I was alerted to the Croatian-born violinist Bojan Čičić by some friends of mine recently, who were very impressed by his new recording of the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas on the award-winning Delphian label. Čičić, a rising star in the baroque world, has held a number of significant roles as concertmaster and director of several ensembles including the Academy of Ancient Music, De Nederlandse Bachvereniging, Dunedin Consort, Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra and Phion Orkest van Gelderland & Overijssel. He has also founded his own Illyria Consort, a group which explores lesser known repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries. In 2016 he assumed the post of Professor of Baroque Violin at the Royal College of Music, eager to pass on his experience and expertise to the young.
The inspiration to record Bach’s monumental works came in 2021 during lockdown. He travelled to Scotland on several occasions, when restrictions allowed, to the Crichton Collegiate Church, Midlothian. The venue has exceptionally fine acoustics and has been used for many recordings over the years, including some by the BBC. It provided the perfect setting for Čičić to set down his interpretations. He dedicated his album to his teacher Damir Kukulj, who sadly died before the project reached its completion.
Bach composed the six Sonatas and Partitas in Cöthen whilst in the service of Prince Leopold. They were completed in 1720 but not published until 1802 by Nikolaus Simrock in Bonn. In the historical performance field it was Sergiu Luca who recorded the first pioneering accounts in 1977; this is a set I admire greatly. Later esteemed traversals have followed courtesy of the likes of Kuijken, Schröder, Huggett and Podger. Čičić’s name can now be added to this distinguished roll call.
The violinist has decided to dispense with convention in the ordering of these works on CD, so the Partitas are grouped together on CD 1 and the Sonatas on CD 2. The Partitas each comprise of several dance movements. Čičić invests each with brio, dash and spirit. Double II from Partita No. 1 has sparkle, brilliance and precision, with crisp articulation. I do not think I have heard it done better. The Sarabande from Partita No. 2 is ardent and yearning with an underlying melancholy. The Gavotte en Rondeau from No. 3 has a foot-tapping buoyancy and grace, dressed in some delightfully improvised ornamentation. The mighty Chaconne of Partita No. 2 is a monumental account, enhanced by Čičić’s superlative technique. There’s a perfect balance between the dramatic moments and those that are more reflective and intimate.
There is an interpretive consistency, technical polish and an unmannered approach to the three Sonatas on CD 2. Čičić brings refinement and purity to every bar of the music. The opening Adagio of the G minor Sonata is expansive and reverential. The fugues in particular work very well, where there is exceptional clarity of articulation and the polyphonic lines are clearly delineated. Another plus is that everything sounds unmannered. The Presto finale of that First Sonata is wonderfully nimble and the intonation impeccable. The eloquent Largo of the Third Sonata reveals the master colourist in Čičić, where the sound is never monochrome but multi layered.
To sum up, I enjoyed this Bach cycle immensely. If any recording of these masterful works ticks all the right boxes for me it’s this one. Intimacy, warmth, flawless intonation, beauty of tone, expressivity and eloquent projection, all informed by impeccable musicianship, come together in these probing accounts. Čičić’s violin is a G. Tononi, Bologna 1701 with a rich bloom to the tone, and the glorious acoustic of Crichton Collegiate Church in Midlothian adds to the allure. Mahan Esfahani’s intelligent, scholarly liner notes provide all the context one could wish for.
These are deeply committed performances, informed by consummate musicianship.
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