MOZART: Adagios & Fugues After J.S. Bach = Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, K. 405, No. 4; Larghetto cantabile in D Major and Fugue, K. 405, No. 5; Adagio and Fugue in A Minor; Allegro in C Minor, K. Anh 44; Adagio cantabile and Fugue in E-flat Major; Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546; Adagio and Fugue in E Major, K. 405, No. 3; Adagio and Fugue in B Minor; Adagio and Fugue in D Minor – Akademie fuer Alte Musik Berlin – Harmonia mundi HMC 902159, 51:18 ****:

Mozart became familiar with Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier collection around 1782, when Baron Gottfried von Swieten gathered a coterie of faithful admirers around him in Vienna. Mozart began to arrange five four-part fugues from Book II of the WTC for two violins, viola, and cello, likely from manuscript copies, since the first print editions of WTC did not appear until 1801.  Basically, Mozart transposed the keyboard texture to the quartet medium, collecting the studies into what passes as his K. 405 in the Koechel catalogue, and he based several of his own compositions from the “lessons” to be gleaned from the older contrapuntal master, the most impressive of which is Mozart’s own K. 426, Fugue for Two Keyboards (29 December 1783).  Later, Mozart arranged the piece attached to an introductory Adagio in dotted rhythm, admitting the work into his catalogue as K. 546, the piece Tchaikovsky always cited as his model for polyphonic texture.  Curiously, the part for the low string instrument permits the use of a doublebass or even a large chest of strings, Mozart’s having designated “Contra Bassi” for at least two instruments.

Opening with the Prelude & Fugue in D Minor, K. 405/4 after Bach’s prelude BWV 877, the Akademie projects a strict, thin and wiry sonority that their original instruments manifest naturally. The gracious Larghetto cantabile in D from Bach’s BWV 874 constitutes as much a galant serenade as we know in Bach, though the turns seem eminently Mozart’s own. The last pages offer a polyphonic dance in restrained motion. In the minor mode, the music sounds like the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. With the Adagio & Fugue in A Minor (from Bach’s BWV 867), the Akademie provides us a Baroque orchestra sound whose winds and brass clearly invoke an antique, even Venetian, sound.  We can hear the influence such a “learned” sonority would have on Mozart’s later wind serenades. Oboes Xenia Loeffler and Michael Bosch make the efforts singularly incisive.

The aforementioned Allegro in C Minor & Fuga a due Cembali. K, 426 reveals a powerfully equipped Mozart, contrapuntally speaking, quite adept in adhering to strict procedures for presenting and varying his theme, whether by imitation, inversion, or stretto. Fortepianists Raphael Alpermann and Joerg-Andreas Boetticher do the honors, their rather caustic staccatos only occasionally singing legato, but maintaining always the vivid color of individual lines.  I recall the first violinist of the Mozart Salzburg Academy Orchestra (under Sandor Vegh), insistent that I listen – twice – to the opening chord of the Adagio, which they had rehearsed ad infinitum until it was to Vegh’s satisfaction.

Strings return for the sweet Adagio cantabile & Fugue in E-flat Major after Bach’s BWV 876. Violin I’s play concertante e arioso while the Violin II’s harmonize; then, the skipping fugue subject, sonorously filled out by low strings as a drone bass (Walter Rumer). Low strings indeed for the Adagio & Fugue in C Minor proper, ominous and tragic, but moving with a steady pulse andantino. The music’s intense pathos seems to point directly at the opening for Mozart’s Symphony No. 39, K. 543.  For immediate contrast, the Akademie proffers the Adagio & Fugue in E Major after Bach’s BWV 849, a piece whose opening mood is all succor and reconciliation. Nice work from the Akademie violins and violas. The fugue subject proves incredibly tender and consoling in nature, easily a theme ripe for a chorale-prelude. 

The last two pieces vary original, five-part fugues from Book I from WTC, those in C-sharp Minor (transposed to D Minor) and B-flat Minor (transposed to A Minor).  Dark, moody, and eminently subjectively introspective, they seem heavy with mortal thoughts. If the anonymous author and copyist for their slow introductions could be guessed at, the somber lines suggest W.F. Bach. The string version Adagio & Fugue in D Minor conveys a chromatic mystery all its own. The long sighs and plaintive falling figures link Corelli to the “emotional” school we associate with C.P.E. Bach. The contrapunctus, given to the horns and brass, proceeds in processional austerity, a stoical figure that embraces two divine musicians in rapt consensus.

—Gary Lemco