> BACH Art of the Fugue Scherchen []: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Art of Fugue BWV 1080
Disc 1 Rehearsal
Contrapunctus 1-9
Disc 2
Contrapunctus 10-18
Closing announcement
CBC Toronto Chamber Orchestra
Hermann Scherchen
Rec: December 1965, CBC Studios, Toronto.
TAHRA 2.108-2.109 [2 CDs 122.26]


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Myriam Scherchen, the daughter of the great German conductor Hermann Scherchen, has set up the Scherchen Foundation to keep the memory of her father alive. The label she set up, Tahra Productions, has released dozens of historic productions over the years, by Scherchen and other great conductors. This 2-CD set is a recording of Scherchenís orchestration of Bachís Art of Fugue, recorded for the Canadian Broadcast Company shortly before Scherchenís death in 1965.

As one can expect, this recording was made with modern instruments - for the most part; Kenneth Gilbert is heard on harpsichord - and is a performance typical of the practices in vogue at the time. Yet what stands out in this recording is the extraordinary orchestration by Scherchen, which gives this music a unique tone.

Scherchenís tempi are relatively fast for the time - none of the lush, thick, slow string playing that is often heard in 1960s recordings of the work. His chamber orchestra is lean, and, in spite of the recording techniques of the time, each instrument can be clearly heard. Scherchen uses dynamics a great deal to emphasize certain parts of the score. There is great tension in the 7th fugue, with the strings starting out with a crescendo, before winds and other instruments come in to add subtlety and balance the powerful string section.

Fugue 9 is very disappointing. Kenneth Gilbert plays this on solo harpsichord - somewhat daring for the time - but unfortunately his instrument is out of tune, and this can be clearly heard at several points in the lower register. But he nevertheless gives a dynamic performance of this fugue. He is heard again alone in several of the canons, and this use of a solo harpsichord adds some more intimate sections to this generally extroverted orchestration.

Scherchenís orchestration is most impressive in the two longest fugues, number 12, the triple fugue, and number 18, the unfinished quadruple fugue. Here he uses the full range of instruments to create almost symphonic movements, which nevertheless do not betray the spirit of the music.

This is a historical document that shows a unique approach to Bachís Art of Fugue. While far from current performance practice, Scherchen offers a window onto another, equally valid approach, which puts the music in a different light. With the exception of the solo harpsichord parts, this is a very moving recording.
Kirk McElhearn




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