Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

REVIEW


Some items
to consider

 


New App by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for iOS and Android!


BAX Orchestral pieces


CASKEN Violin Concerto

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 


Buy through MusicWeb
for £12 postage paid World-wide.


Musicweb Purchase button

 

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Art of Fugue BWV 1080
CD 1: Contrapuncti 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 5, 6, 7, 13, 8, 9, 10, 11 [50:47]
CD 2: Contrapuncti 15, 14, 17a, 17b, 16a, 16b, 18, 13a and 13b arranged for two keyboards [44:23]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 12-14 March 1996
NIMBUS NI 2549/50 [52:04 + 43:59]

Experience Classicsonline



Very Russian Bach, this. The touch is firm and deliberate throughout, the interpretation is lively but founded on a strong intellectual basis, and the structure of each movement is articulated through slow dynamic changes and long, interconnected phrases that impart an almost narrative quality.

Vladimir Feltsman arrived in America from Russia in 1987, bringing with him a lifetimeís experience of playing Bach the Russian way, a way that soon found him admiring American audiences. This recording was made in New York in 1996 and is one of a series of classical and jazz recordings from the MusicMasters back catalogue currently being re-released by Nimbus.

The series also includes Feltsmanís Goldberg Variations, a recording which caused some controversy on its initial release for the liberties he had taken with the score. His Art of Fugue is less contentious in that respect, but itís still the sort of recording that could get period performance types hot under the collar. It is performed on a grand piano in a generous acoustic; no effort is made to imitate the performance practice of the 18th century harpsichord (apart from the occasional hesitation before accented downbeats), and a strong sense of internal drama and turmoil is injected into many of the more expansive contrapuncti.

Given that this is an idiosyncratic performance of Bach for American audiences, comparisons with Glenn Gould seem appropriate. Like Gould, Feltsman often starts from an emotional ground zero by presenting the fugue theme quiet, straight and drained of all colour. The opening of Contrapunctus 1 is a case in point, pianissimo with even, light articulation. But the way that this, and indeed all the movements, unfolds is quite different to Gould. Itís certainly lyrical, but there is little in the way of rubato and the counterpoint is played evenly, each entry left to speak for itself. Itís intelligently structured like Gould, and achieves a similar unity of intent across the span of each of the movements. But thereís no angst, none of that eternal questing for Bachís inner truth that makes Glenn Gouldís recordings so infuriatingly addictive. Feltsman is a man at peace with the music; he has established a coherent interpretation, which he offers without any apparent distress on his own part. Itís not that the performance is uncommitted or dispassionate; rather it is the product of a much more comfortable (and probably healthier) relationship between performer and composer.

The articulation of the counterpoint is exemplary throughout. Feltsman achieves variety through a number of technical means, but his articulation stays more-or-less even. It is a controlled, even semi-legato, which allows the voice leading to shine through any texture or dynamic. That Russian sense of deliberate, focused interpretation does not mean heavy-handed performance. So, for example, Contrapuncti 7 and 9 have a fleet-footed delicacy, again with that even touch and strong sense of purpose, but neither of these weigh the music down.

One or two movements find Feltsman in a more contemplative mood, such as Contrapunctus 17a. The discipline is still there in the articulation and even dynamics, but we are at a slow, slow pace and with a slight wayward touch added by the irregular trills in each of the voices.

Ornamentation is also restrained. The Contrapunctus no. 6 is an interesting case, in that Bach designates it as being in a ĎStile franceseí. Feltsman adds a few brief ornaments, but itís hardly rococo. And the ornaments he adds are played so deliberately that they seem integral to the contrapuntal texture rather than decorative flourishes. The opening of the Contrapunctus no. 6 is quite a heavy chordal affair, and Feltsmanís restraint is again notable in the way he communicates this sense of weight without even the suggestion of bombast.

A quotation from Feltsman in the liner gives the impression that he treats this work as some kind of holy text. ĎArt of Fugue is scripture, and as such is open ended. As all scriptures, it is pointing towards one source Ė the source of all from where it came and an expression of which it is.í This may help explain his reverential approach to interpreting the work and it raises expectations of what he might do with the final Contrapunctus no.18. Well, and sorry for giving the end away, he treats the ending of the movement, as it tails off into incompletion as something far more definite that it actually is. The movement up until this point is performed in a contemplative, if disciplined, mezzo piano. The final BACH exposition, in contrast, is presented as if it were a conclusive statement of authorship. Itís one way to end the work, but I canít help the feeling that it compromises its intrinsic open-endedness.

The two keyboard arrangement of the Contrapunctus 13, with Feltsman multitracking the two parts, completes the second disc. Itís another sprightly, if very deliberate interpretation. There is also some subtle rubato, which must have made the synching interesting.

As re-releases go, this is a curious choice from a transatlantic back catalogue. But Vladimir Feltsman has plenty to say with the Art of Fugue. Perhaps British audiences are now ready to hear resolutely inauthentic (of at least un-ĎAuthenticí) Bach interpretation without the automatic criticism that would have greeted it in 1996. Itís not the last word on the Art of Fugue, by any means, but its combination of intellect, discipline and emotion feels true to the spirit of Bachís often nebulous intentions.

Gavin Dixon

 


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Prťalable
Alto
Arcodiva
Atoll
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallť
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 


EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Pat and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools




Return to Review Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.