> Johann Sebastian BACH - The Art of the Fugue [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Art of the Fugue

Contrapunctus I - IX
Glenn Gould, piano
Contrapunctus I
Contrapunctus II
Contrapunctus IV
Contrapunctus IX
Contrapunctus XII
Contrapunctus XIV
Prelude and Fugue in B-flat major BVW 898
Glenn Gould, piano
Rec: January-February 1962, All Saintsí Anglican Church, Toronto and Chapel of the Theological College, New York; spring 1981, CBC studios; November 1967, CBC studios; May 1980, Eatonís Auditorium, Toronto, Canada.
SONY SMK87759 [69.39]

Glenn Gouldís talent cruelly severed by his untimely death shortly before his 50th birthday deprived the musical world of a turbulent and ikonic talent. Fortunately Sony Classical are now reissuing these recordings using the latest technology.

This disc contains all the recordings Glenn Gould made of the various fugues from the Art of the Fugue, Bachís most dense and contrapuntal work, which is built around a basic theme that is developed in different ways through a series of fugues and canons. Here Gould plays some of the fugues on organ, and others on piano. This disc is a hotchpotch of different recordings from different eras; three of the fugues were even recorded in mono in 1967.

The first part of this disc is quite a surprise - while Glenn Gould was not an organist, he did study the instrument for many years. This was Gouldís only organ recording, and it certainly does not stand out as a memorable interpretation. Gould admits that he did not practise on the organ before recording them; he only practised on the piano. This explains his almost total lack of legato (this is less apparent in the faster and denser sections) and his very limited used of the pedals. Gould indeed plays the organ as he does the piano, but, in spite of his non-organ style, there is something to be said for certain of the fugues. The lack of legato sounds good at times, such as at the beginning of the fifth fugue, and, after the second voice comes in, there is a hint of legato. Gould eschews the grand sound of the organ, instead importing his own universe, and, while not a successful recording, it is certainly interesting.

But the piano recordings drastically change the tone of this disc. Gouldís approach to tempo and dynamics are very surprising. The first fugue is heard fading in on the disc as if from a distance, with the first notes played pianissimo, and the dynamics slowly increasing. The tempo of this work is almost ethereally slow. As compared to other recordings, Gould takes nearly five minutes whereas it is usually played at three to three and a half minutes. The second fugue shows a totally different side of how this music can be played, with an almost syncopated rhythm and a much faster tempo. The fourth fugue features a drive and energy that, in spite of the muted dynamics, brings the piece to life in unexpected ways. Gould shows a great deal of sensitivity to these fugues, and no matter what his approach, one can appreciate that there is a logic behind his way of playing.

Perhaps the highlight of this disc is the 14th fugue, the unfinished fugue, that Gould said was, "the most difficult thing Iíve ever approached." Recorded for Canadian television, this long fugue (over twelve minutes) is one of the most intense recordings Gould ever made. Beginning slowly and softly, his trademark humming adding an additional voice to the fugue, Gould develops this piece with such intensity that it is almost unforgettable.

Even though this disc contains some weak interpretations, the quality of the fugues played on piano, especially the 14th fugue, make it an essential disc in any Bach discography.

Kirk McElhearn

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