Mark Kaplan’s Subtle, Sophisticated Solo Bach

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

This is the third edition of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin by Bridge. The label’s first was with Gregory Fulkerson, while the second featured Cecylia Arzewski. Now comes Mark Kaplan, whose newly released 2011 recording proves the most interesting among the three (I have not heard Kaplan’s long-out-of-print earlier recording for Mitch Miller Music).

The intimacy of his tone and phrasing relates to the precepts of historically informed performance without falling prey to mannerisms. More importantly, Kaplan’s discreet use of vibrato, intelligently scaled dynamics, astute voice leading, keen ear for harmonic motion, and sensible tempos illuminate both the music’s emotional core and formidable workmanship. These points are especially evident in the three sonatas’ fugues.

Many interpreters play the G minor and A minor fugues’ expositions in a forthright, almost stentorian manner. Instead, Kaplan shyly eases his way into the fugue subjects, while inflecting the episodes so that inner melodies take shape and move over the barlines. Similarly, faster, motoric movements like the G minor Presto, the B minor Partita’s second Double, and the E major Partita’s Preludio abound with unusual accents and stresses that never detract from the overall momentum. In slower movements, Kaplan creates intriguing foreground/background scenarios, where quick decorative passages and embellishments emerge as offhand flourishes, focusing attention instead on broken chords and implied bass notes.

Some listeners may prefer to hear the great D minor Chaconne unfold more simply, yet Kaplan’s markedly varied articulations and bowings create fascinating multi-leveled textures without sacrificing one iota of narrative flow. In short, one might say that the Fulkerson recording mirrors Nathan Milstein in certain respects, while Kaplan evokes Joseph Szigeti’s mid-1950s cycle. But while Szigeti was past his prime, Kaplan is at the top of his form. His extensive and articulate booklet notes thoughtfully discuss these works from both musical and personal points of view. Although I still recommend James Ehnes’ direct, robust, and highly polished Analekta traversals for those who are coming to this music for the first time, Mark Kaplan’s sophisticated insights and subtle mastery also deserve serious consideration.



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Recording Details:

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

  • BACH, J.S.:
    The Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin
  • Mark Kaplan (violin)

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