Alexander Schneider’s 1949 Solo Bach Recordings

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 6

Between leaving the Budapest String Quartet in 1944 and rejoining them in 1956, violinist Alexander Schneider pursued an independent freelance career. One major project from this period took place in 1949, when Schneider recorded Bach’s unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas for the relatively new Mercury label, which had recently launched a classical division. The cycle appeared on four individual LPs in time for the 1950 Bach anniversary, as well as in a deluxe boxed set edition (Mercury MGL-1) that used to fetch hundreds of dollars from second-hand record dealers. To the best of my knowledge, Schneider’s cycle gains its first CD reissue here.

The original engineering was remarkably vibrant and lifelike, doing full justice to Schneider’s wide dynamic range. If his tone does not convey the striking individuality distinguishing other mono-era solo Bach practitioners like Heifetz, Szeryng, Szigeti, Milstein, and Martzy, Schneider’s intensity, concentration, and commitment are never in doubt. Knowing that Schneider received Bach coaching from Pablo Casals, I wonder to what extent the latter’s influence permeates Schenider’s dynamic relationships within phrases, accentuation, and resolution of cadences. Or in how Schneider brings out the G minor Presto’s cross-rhythmic patterns , or how his carefully plotted crescendos and diminuendos in the B minor Double Presto channels the pyrotechnics toward musical ends.

Similar dynamic structuring and attention to voice help to sustain Schneider’s measured tread in the lengthy A minor and C major fugues, notwithstanding occasional insecurity of intonation. Unfortunately, Schneider’s heavy-handed and relatively unvaried D minor Chaconne leaves a turgid impression next to the less timbrally ingratiating Szigeti, whose nuanced complexity not only generates greater note-to-note tension, but also reveals a superior command of time scale.

I suspect that Schneider’s strengths flourished the most within chamber music collaborations and through his latter day podium work, notably his extraordinary Mozart concerto recordings with piano soloist Peter Serkin. Still, collectors should thank Biddulph for rescuing Schneider’s solo Bach from discographical oblivion, and at a reasonable price.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Ehnes (Analekta); Milstein (DG)

  • Alexander Schneider (violin)

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