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Bach: Art of the Fugue [CD+Catalog] / Fretwork

Bach,J.s. / Fretwork
Release Date: 06/08/2010 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 2907296   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BACH The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 Fretwork HARMONIA MUNDI 2907296 (76:13)

Bach’s The Art of Fugue in a version for viols. Though my preference still lies in its keyboard (especially piano) realization, the ensemble Fretwork convinces with its well-paced and musically engaging performance. The members of the ensemble opt to alter the order of movements, which according to them has worked well for many years. Indeed, it is Read more convincing, considering this cycle was almost certainly not intended for performance in its entirety.

What makes this traversal especially attractive is the instinctive way in which Fretwork’s members play this music. Rather than approaching this opus over-reverentially, they let the music naturally progress and take shape by staying out of its way; in other words, they have a non-fussy approach to it. When the music calls for them to be solemn, as it does, for example, in Contrapunctus 11, they are. At other times, when it calls for them to remain more dance-like and lively, as in Contrapunctus 9, they whole-heartedly welcome the opportunity. Their understanding of Baroque practices in their use of swells to help clarify lines is not overdone; rather it lends a nice, period-instrument feel to the recording—something the instruments themselves naturally do. They maintain a good sound-blend throughout much of the literal note-on-note counterpoint, as can clearly be heard in both Contrapuncti 1 and 5, though at times this feature is as much of a hindrance as it is a positive attribute.

My main issue with the recording, though, is the lack of bass presence in many of the individual movements—and as the bass plays such an important role in our conception of this music, this is a bit of a problem. In some instances, for example in Contrapunctus 4, and also in the Canon alla Ottava, there are moments when the music sounds emptier than it should, when the treble is almost too pronounced for my taste, and the bass seems to be missing completely; it takes away from the richness of the harmony and the clarity of the interweaving counterpoint. Some of the tempi are also a little on the slow side, though they are never overly so, and remain well chosen for most of the movements.

Though many string quartets have chosen to record this music—the Emerson, for example, only a few years ago—if one is looking for a solid and musical string version, and is not opposed to the period-instrument movement in all its unabashed glory, then this performance would certainly be at the top of the list, even with the issues previously mentioned. That said, I would still not part with my favorite aforementioned keyboard versions: Glenn Gould (excerpts only on Sony 52595), Grigory Sokolov (Naïve 30346), and Evgeni Koroliov (Tacet 0013).

FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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Works on This Recording

The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Fretwork
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1745-1750; Leipzig, Germany 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Austere April 15, 2012 By Dr. Mitchell Gurk (Spencer, MA) See All My Reviews "As i am used to Karl Richter's orchestral version with many colorful timbre, this string Q version seemed to obscure some of the subtleties of this music. A little too much perfection, tho the playing is first rate." Report Abuse
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