FUGUE—BACH & HIS FORERUNNERS • Colin Tilney (hpd) (period instrument) • MUSIC & ARTS 1226 (66:31)
BACH The Art of Fugue: Excerpts. L. COUPERIN Prelude in d. FRESCOBALDI Capriccios: la, sol, fa, mi, re, do; sopra un soggetto. G. GABRIELI Read more class="ARIAL12bi">Fuga del nono tono. FROBERGER Ricercar 5
Part of this album’s title is “Bach and his Forerunners.” While no one would argue that Couperin, Gabrieli, Frescobaldi, and Froberger were not all antecedent to Bach (and far be it for me to question the program choices of a distinguished artist such as Colin Tilney), it does seem a bit odd that two predecessors who were probably more influential in Bach’s life than any of the above—Buxtehude and Georg Böhm—are omitted. It’s also interesting, if a bit odd, that Tilney’s own booklet notes devote three full pages to the selected fugues from Bach’s The Art of Fugue, and exactly one paragraph to the remaining composers and pieces. Tilney doesn’t suggest that everything leading up to Bach is mere foreplay (forgive the pun), but giving such short shrift to some very important composers does tend to leave one with the impression that all roads lead to and culminate in Bach’s The Art of Fugue.
The tracks of the recording are not laid out as presented in the above headnote, which was fashioned to avoid repetition of composers’ names. Tilney gives us the Bach fugues in groups of three, two, and three, in between which are sandwiched the other works. Returning to Tilney’s note, it’s clear that he has designed and intended this program for the music lover unfamiliar with Bach’s The Art of Fugue, for as he states, “The present recording is thus seen, not as a drastically shortened version of Bach’s whole vision, but as an attempt to interest players and audiences in some of its more accessible parts.” Since this is Fanfare, the magazine for serious record collectors, I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this review you already know The Art of Fugue in its entirety, and that a recording of excerpts from it may not hold that much interest for you. Therefore, let me address the “forerunners” to which the album title refers.
Louis Couperin (c. 1626–1661) was uncle to the more famous François, aka “le Grand.” He is represented here by a quite elaborate Prelude in D-Minor, lasting over six-and-a-half minutes. A third of that is given over to a toccata-like introduction consisting of keyboard flourishes. This is followed by a fugue and then a return to the opening material. If a work like this played a role in influencing Bach, the influence would have manifested itself in Bach’s solo keyboard toccatas.
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643) straddled the Renaissance and the Baroque. His Capriccio la, sol, fa, mi, re, do is based on the common hexachord, played backwards, that was used to teach singing. The other Frescobaldi piece on the disc, the Capriccio sopra un soggetto, is a very beautiful and thoroughly worked out fugue on a single subject.
Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557–1612) lived even more of his years in the 16th century than did Frescobaldi. He is best remembered today for his massed polychoral sacred vocal and antiphonal brass works that exploited the spatial acoustics of the San Marco Church in Venice. His brief Fuga del nono tono presents a subject and its straightforward working out with little elaboration. I’m guessing that the ninth mode (nono tono) is Aeolian, or what we know today as A Minor, since it’s next in number after Hypomixolydian, the eighth and last of the established Church or Ecclesiastical modes. Clearly, by Gabrieli’s time, composers were moving away from the modal system, though remnants of it would hang on for well over a century. Even as late as 1720, we still find a key signature of only one flat in Bach’s Unaccompanied Violin Sonata in G-Minor, with the E?s being written in as accidentals.
Johann Jakob Froberger (1616–1667) is generally credited with being the father of the keyboard suite. Even before Couperin le Grand, Froberger was a pioneer in the type of descriptive writing that is considered the seed of program music. As fugue-type compositions go, Froberger’s Ricercar 5 is pretty rudimentary, sounding almost like a beginner’s exercise in counterpoint.
Anyone with a decent-sized collection of harpsichord recordings is sure to have encountered Colin Tilney, an artist who has been on the scene for many years and has many fine discs to his credit. On this release, he plays an anonymous 18th-century Italian harpsichord, possibly from Cristofori’s workshop in Florence. It’s a lovely sounding instrument, perfectly suited to the selections on the CD. Tilney argues, as have others, that Bach’s The Art of Fugue belongs to the world of the harpsichord rather than the organ; and based on the sampling we get here, he may be right. I’ve long enjoyed his recording of Bach’s seven toccatas on Dorian (90115), so perhaps he might consider giving us The Art of Fugue complete.
This is a very nice offering that can be recommended to those who like musical samplers.