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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1759)
The Art Of Fugue
Chamber Works by Gyorgy KURTAG
Cello Suites Nos. 1 and 5
Keller Quartet, Anner Bylsma (cello)
Rec.: 2000, Mathematical Institute of the Academy of Science, Budapest (Art of Fugue); 2000, Bartholomaus-Kirche, Dornheim (Cello Suites). Sound format: PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Picture format: 4:3 Picture standard: NTSC
Region code: 0
EUROARTS 2050759 [71 min. (Art of Fugue); 44 min. (Cello Suites)]


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What a curious idea! In a recording of Bach's Art of Fugue are interspersed bits and pieces of works by the contemporary Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag. It is not as if we get the entire Art of Fugue. The performance is bits of this and bits of that. "This concept may seem strange at first glance, not least because it places works by the most disparate of composers not just side by side but weaves them together." Strange indeed, and, in my opinion, a total failure.

The interposition of the two radically different types of music is far too jarring to be of interest. And, unfortunately, the only way to listen to all of one or all of the other is to skip tracks; the DVD offers no possibility (which would, in fact have been simple) of listening to only the Bach or only the Kurtag.

It is the Bach that will attract purchasers to this DVD, however, not only for the Art of Fugue, but also for the performance of two cello suites by Anner Bylsma. As for the Keller’s Bach, it is very indecisive. The first movement they play makes the Art of Fugue sound like Schubert; the second like Mozart; the third like Beethoven, and on to Haydn and even Bartók (the final fugue), with only the occasional section that really sounds like Bach. Contrapunctus 4 is the best example of how the Keller can play this work with authority - their counterpoint is exemplary in this movement. But they do not maintain any semblance of an overall vision of the work. It ends up sounding like little more than a collection of diverse movements in different styles.

As to Anner Bylsma's performance of two cello suites (the first and fifth), this is nothing short of sublime. Bylsma is indeed one of the foremost performers of these works, and here, playing on the Stradivarius "Servais", which he used for his second recording of these works, he shines. The sound is excellent (though a bit muddy at times, in some of the faster sections), and Bylsma, sober and concentrated as ever, gives a riveting performance. If only the four other suites had been filmed ...

The two parts of the DVD are different programs, so viewers can choose to watch either the Art of Fugue (with the bonus features by Kurtag) or the Cello Suites. In my opinion, this DVD is more than worth its cost for the latter, as anyone who is familiar with Bylsma's recordings and performances of these suites will certainly appreciate. While the Art of Fugue is disappointing, and the Kurtag out of place, Bylsma shines as he does in all his other recordings of these Suites.

Kirk McElhearn


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