Notes and Editorial Reviews
There are several Art of the Fugue recordings of outstanding merit...But for the most part, Art of the Fugue as arranged for keyboard seems to be the most idiomatic solution. There are excellent harpsichord versions by Kenneth Gilbert (DG) and Gustav Leonhardt (Vanguard). However, both have drawbacks: Gilbert omits two of the four canons and leaves the great unfinished fugue out altogether, while Leonhardt’s 1953 sonics are a bit dated. The piano versions I most enjoy are those by Tatiana Nikolayeva (Hyperion), Evgeni Koroliov (Tacet), and Charles Rosen (Sony). Of course, the piano wasn’t even around in Bach’s day, but its range of volume and its capacity for expressive shading are great advantages. The harpsichord’s biggest strength is an
utter clarity that sounds tailor-made for Bach’s counterpoint, but it sacrifices the piano’s greater warmth and inflection. Perhaps the best compromise in Art of the Fugue would be a keyboard instrument that combines some of the piano’s variety of expression with the crystalline lucidity of the harpsichord.
This wonderful new two-disc set from Lyrichord allows us to hear just that: a world premiere recording of a complete Art of the Fugue on the clavichord, played with superbly stylish virtuosity by Richard Troeger. Unlike a harpsichord, which plucks the strings, the clavichord strikes them, with the added capability of nuanced vibrations and dynamic shading. As for clarity, Albert Schweitzer wrote in 1905 that “the clavichord is a string quartet in miniature; every detail comes out lucidly on it.” Troeger plays an unfretted instrument built in 1979 by Ronald Haas (in XII, Troeger is joined by Paulette Grundeen on second clavichord). With fluent technique and extremely subtle rubato, Troeger gives each movement a vibrantly distinctive profile. As explained in his scholarly liner notes, Troeger completes the unfinished fugue with an additional 40 measures of related material, which include the famous note pattern that, in German musical nomenclature, spells out B-A-C-H. It’s the most persuasive completion of those I have heard.
Just as no set of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas has addressed each piece with equal distinction, no version of Art of the Fugue is equally effective in every movement. Troeger adopts generally moderate tempos and is especially impressive in movements that contain complex counterpoint (e.g., double and triple fugues). Here and there, I prefer certain movements in other hands, such as the relentless intensity of Gilbert in III, the incredibly poignant IV by Nikolayeva, and the sheer rhythmic zest of Leonhardt in VIII. But in no movement does Troeger fail to acquit himself honorably, and the delicate colors of his instrument are a joy to experience. As bonuses, Troeger gives us a sparkling Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, a gripping account of the Fantasia BWV 922, and two of Bach’s own transcriptions of solo violin works.
The abstract and otherworldly music of Art of the Fugue is a formidable challenge for players and listeners alike. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. If I were limited to just five of its recordings, my current choices would be the SQUARE Ristenpart (old habits die hard!), the HIP Savalli with Hyperion XX, Gilbert on harpsichord, pianist Nikolayeva, and this path-breaking account on clavichord by Richard Troeger. Warmly recommended.
Jeffrey J. Lipscomb, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Richard Troeger (Clavichord),
Paulette Grundeen (Clavichord)
Written: circa 1745-1750; Leipzig, Germany
Length: 75 Minutes 59 Secs.
Adagio in G major, BWV 968 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Richard Troeger (Clavichord)
Length: 3 Minutes 17 Secs.
Sonata in D minor, BWV 964 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Richard Troeger (Clavichord)
Length: 17 Minutes 46 Secs.
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