is a new and worthy recording of Bach's late masterpiece,
his unfinished riff on the very notion of counterpoint.
Art of Fugue is, quite simply,
an awesome display of fugal prowess. It is not just a collection
of fugues. It is a boundary testing concoction of simple
fugues, double fugues, triple fugues, stretto fugues, reflected
fugues and, last of all, the great unfinished quadruple
many ways, The Art of Fugue remains an enigma. What
is the correct performing order for these pieces? Should
the fugues be played in the order in which they appear in
Bach's manuscript, or should the order in the original printed
version prevail? Presumably the latter reflects Bach's own
ordering of the pieces as he prepared them for publication.
We cannot be sure. We do not even know what instrument Bach
intended these pieces for. The organ? Bach was certainly
a master of the king of instruments and these fugues sound
great with big sonorities behind them. There have also been
successful performances by orchestra, string quartet and
even brass quintet. I made my first acquaintance with The
Art of Fugue through the 1988 recording by Canadian Brass
and to this day their rendition remains my favourite.
likely Bach had keyboard instruments in mind, and piano and
harpsichord recordings certainly dominate the catalogue.
There are precious few budget priced recordings, though.
one proves a decent introduction, but not a first choice.
Guillot's approach is respectful but unsmiling. This, combined
with his firm touch and the bright but hard-edged tone of
the replica harpsichord, can make his playing sound like
a relentless rush of counterpoint at times. That said, he
delineates voices clearly and gives each fugue a firm pulse.
Guillot does allow himself a little freedom of tempo and
a stately rall at the end of each fugue. This usually
works quite well, but not always: the last note of fugue
no. 6 (Contrapuncti 10 and 14), for example, is hit just
after the previous chord has faded, making it sound like
an afterthought rather than a resolution.
liner notes, by Pierre Bachmann, are full of rhetorical questions
and are not particularly helpful to beginner or collector.
After a rush of questions that ask in metaphysical language
the same questions I have posed above, Bachmann asks: “Why
assign numbers to the soul's utterances? Why frame the unseen?”.
Why, indeed? Perhaps it sounds more profound in the original
French. No complaints about the engineering, though – the
recorded sound here is vivid and full.
then, this is a decent, affordable and well-played introduction
to The Art of Fugue. Those with other keyboard versions
in their collection need hardly rush into the stores to buy
this one, but it will suit anyone coming to this piece for
the first time, or anyone wanting a harpsichord version to
compare to their preferred arrangements of this mesmerising