The Strad Issue: January 2007
Musicians: Scott Slapin (viola)
Composer: Bach

American violist Scott Slapin’s second recording of Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas features big-boned Bach playing. He uses a modern ‘cut-away’ viola by Hiroshi Lizuka, which is given a warmly vivid personality in this resonant recording.

Slapin’s performances demonstrate a spontaneity and intensity that are sometimes genuinely moving but at other times unconvincing. Some of the dance movements of the partitas are well characterised, notably the relaxed, melancholy Sarabande of BWV1004 and the athletic Gigue of BWV1006, but the Allemande and Courante of BWV1004 and the doubles of the Allemande and Sarabande of BWV1002 seem somewhat metronomic and shapeless. The mesmeric steadiness of moto perpetuo, too, makes for heady, if somewhat monotonous finishes to the finales of the three sonatas.

Slapin’s account of the monumental Chaconne of BWV1004 is technically accomplished and musically interesting, but his variable tempos do not allow the space in which to unfold fully the movement’s majesty. He seems most at home in the lilting Siciliano of BWV1001, the Grave and the relaxed, pulsating Andante of BWV1003 and in the vast majority of BWV1013, this latter an unusual venture for a violist. However, not all his playing is flawless. The fugues of the sonatas are taken at quick tempos that exacerbate their technical challenges and result in some abrasive moments (particularly in BWV1001), faulty intonation (notably in BWV1002) and a failure to communicate fully the contrapuntal detail. Some accentuation in the Gavotte of BWV1006 and phrasing in the Adagio of BWV1001 raise eyebrows, as does Slapin’s puzzling inconsistency regarding repeats.