Rarely have I watched a classical music DVD that has drawn
me into the music the way this one did. Granted, Die Kunst
der Fuge is one of my favourite pieces of music, and it’s
one that always makes me pay attention. While it may be considered
to be cerebral, “didactic” music, it is nevertheless a series
of variations that stands head-and-shoulders over all other
Beyond the music, this DVD stands out by taking the viewer
on stage, among the musicians as they perform. With a group
22 instrumentalists - sixteen strings, four winds (trombone,
oboe, oboe de caccia and bassoon), organ and harpsichord -
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin presents here a unique arrangement
of Bach’s work. Using constantly changing groups of musicians
to play the different sections, the cameras and lighting help
focus on those playing, even taking the viewer in amongst the
performers. While this was performed live, in front of an audience,
it is actually surprising to see some of the camera angles
close-ups: there must have been at least one cameraman on stage
with a steadicam. The musicians deserve credit for not being
disturbed - though the audience may have been irked by this.
This camera work, with its many close-ups, combined with the
innovative lighting and placement of the musicians, makes the
film of the work almost as interesting as the music.
There’s an initial organ chorale which is not part of the work,
and seems out of place. After this Die Kunst der Fuge begins
with a string quartet playing the first fugue, then the four
winds playing the next one. All sixteen strings then take their
turn, and each part of the work features a different configuration
of musicians: sometimes a solo harpsichord or organ, sometimes
a string duo or trio, and even once the organ with two winds.
The variety of orchestrations highlights the different colours
of the canons and fugues, and makes this one of the most delightful
versions of this work that I’ve heard.
In spite of this being a live performance, there are no noticeable
errors in the performance, and the musicians are clearly absorbed
in their playing. While the sound is only in stereo - a surround-sound
mix would have been nice, given the “in-your-face” approach
to filming - it is excellently recorded.
Whether you’re a fan of Bach’s Art of Fugue or not,
this DVD will help you (re)discover this wonderful music. This
one of the finest classical DVDs I’ve seen; one of the rare
filmed performances that actually is worth filming for the