JS Bach - The Art of Fugue
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Label: Channel Classics
Cat No: CCSSA38316
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 23rd September 2016
ArtistsRachel Podger (violin, director)
- Rachel Podger (violin, director)
- Johannes Pramsohler (violin, viola)
- Jane Rogers (viola)
- Alison McGillivray (violoncello)
- Marcin Świątkiewicz (harpsichord)
5Canon Alla Ottava
11Contrapunctus VIII, A 3
12Contrapunctus XI, A 4
13Canon Alla Duodecima
14Contrapunctus XII, A 4
15Canon Alla Decima
16Contrapunctus XIII, A 3
17Canon Per Augmentationem In Contrario Motu
There are those audiences and, indeed, musicians, for whom the very word ‘fugue’ is a deterrent, the musical equivalent of Brussels sprouts or porridge: nourishing but deeply unappetising. And the tendency until recently to perform such works in a robust, four-square, solid, stolid and sober manner has hardly helped (one thinks with mixed feelings of the sawing string orchestra arrangements of yesteryear).
Well, think again! In recent years, there has been a radical reassessment of The Art of Fugue’s practical potentialities by performers, with an array of thoroughly engaging accounts not just on keyboard (harpsichord, organ, piano) but by all manner of ensembles. Increased awareness of Baroque performing styles and (crucially) possibilities has also helped to breathe new life into this endlessly fascinating music. This exceptional new disc from Rachel Podger’s Brecon Baroque stands out among the new generation of recordings for the light and air they let into the work. Using just a string quartet plus harpsichord, variously deployed in the constituent pieces, the musicians imbue each movement with a distinctive character, and the scoring they employ allows the listener (should he or she wish) to trace every line of counterpoint with absolute clarity even in the knottiest passages. They bring phenomenal articulation to the faster pieces (the Canon alla Ottava, track 5, or the gigue-like Contrapunctus 13, track 16), but also the richness of the textures, as in the glorious closing cadences, some of which were expanded by Bach when he undertook a thorough revision of the work after setting down the initial version.
The ordering of movements, left somewhat open by Bach (he did not live to supervise the work’s printing), is a sensible one, with simple fugues (Contrapuncti 1-4) followed by double fugues, counter-fugues, triple and triple/quadruple fugues, before moving to the later Contrapuncti and Canons. The famous unfinished fugue (Contrapunctus 14) is played last, its final notes left hanging teasingly in the air. Two canons (tracks 13 and 15) are played by harpsichord alone (the excellent Marcin Świątkiewicz) – a ‘taster’, as it were, for those tempted to explore harpsichord solo recordings of the work.
With even the more involved fugues such as the magnificent Contrapunctus 11 given a rare buoyancy, and just the closing fugue taking on a more inward, mediative hue, this is an account of Bach’s masterpiece that will reach out even to those who normally choose to keep intricate counterpoint at arm’s length. The recording is warm and sympathetic but superbly detailed, and John Butt, no less, provides the splendidly insightful liner notes. The same unfailing musicality that informed Podger’s recent Gramophone Award-winning disc of Biber’s Rosary Sonatas is in evidence throughout this new recording, making it required listening for all lovers of great music.
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