BACH: Die Kunst der Fuge (arranged by Bernhard Forck and Stephan Mai) – Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin – Harmonia mundi 902064, 77:41 ***1/2:
Bach’s Art of Fugue has been subjected to almost as many wild and crazy treatments as most of his work has in general. For fugue lovers it is probably even more tempting as we can’t be sure of the rhyme or reason for the work’s composition, and we don’t what instrument it was composed for either—keyboard of some kind has always been assumed, perhaps organ, but it loses (I think) a lot of contrapuntal clarity on that instrument with a few recorded exceptions.
This is an orchestral version, brand new, and performed on period instruments. The authors try to justify this new creation by saying that they had a desire to plunge…together into the structures, harmonic language and dramatic content” of the music. What this means is that this is a performance that attempts to aid Bach’s naked score by the infusion of orchestral drama that many will argue is not authentic in the least, and uses the cover of a period performance to possibly justify itself. I don’t know about all of that—I tend to try and determine whether such attempts at enlightenment really work as far as the music is concerned, and to whether it has the power to persuade and to move us today.
This one does have that power, not in the least because Art of Fugue is so protective of its own innate secrets, and it is, frankly, hard to screw it up. With that in mind, there are certainly less interesting opinions on the recorded market than this one, and because it is rather unique in presenting the score like this, many will enjoy it. But in the end I do not feel that it is as representative of Bach’s intentions and subtleties as it could be, largely because of its own internal dynamics and the fact that all of the additional elements and colorful scoring can detract from the essence of this work—many will, however, disagree with this, and the performances are sterling. If you love this work, you will want this, and the recorded sound is superb.
— Steven Ritter
Rafal Blechacz Plays Chopin – DG
“An hour of pure Chopin enchantment…”