MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2023
Approaching 60,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Art of Fugue BWV 1080 [90:47]
Diana Boyle (piano)
rec. Forde Abbey, Chard, Dorset, 26-31 March 2007
Orginally released as Elective Solitude Recordings 8-84502-30215-8 (review copy)
DIVINE ART DDA2507 [46:47 + 44:00]

Experience Classicsonline

Bringing “The Art of Fugue” from the printed page to life as sound presents many problems for the performer. For a start, what instrument or instruments to use? Although Tovey’s comment that “no rule of counterpoint is kept more meticulously by Bach than the confinement of the part-writing to the stretch of two hands throughout” this has not stopped performances on groups of just about every possible type of instrument, including guitars, saxophones, trombones and recorders, as well as the less flashy but more effective string quartet and viol consort. If multiple instruments are to be used the last has been the most effective group in my experience. There is nonetheless a good case for the use of a single keyboard instrument, generally organ, harpsichord or piano. Whether the result works for the listener as music depends much more on the performer than on the choice of instrument.

Not only does Bach not specify the instrument to be used, he gives no indication of speed, dynamics or phrasing. All of these are up to the performer and the range of solutions is amazing. Whilst some highly respected musicians I have met remain convinced that this is music for the eye rather than the ear, my own experience of listening to a wide range of versions suggests that on the contrary this is a work which gives the performer both freedom and responsibility – far more so than, say, the Brandenburg Concertos, and in the right hands it can come to life as an astonishingly varied and stimulating collection. Even the most unlikely and eccentric performances can shed considerable light on the work, and any listener who has become fascinated by it is likely to want a selection which can be enjoyed in different ways.

The present version may indeed be described without exaggeration as one of the more unlikely and even eccentric ones. It starts almost inaudibly with a curious hesitation in the rhythm of the theme. The latter is usually “brought out” when it appears in the different voices, and dynamics vary, at times alarmingly. Great care is needed with the volume at which you listen to it. Set it too soft and the start cannot be heard; set it too loud and the louder passages sound ugly and forced. The booklet indicates that Ms Boyle stresses the “orchestral” dimensions of the work, thinking of its articulation in terms of violins, trombones, double bass and flute at various times. I would certainly not quarrel with this as an approach and it is good to hear a performance that is above all determined to capture the changing musical character of the work rather than simply to demonstrate the complexity and ingenuity of the fugal writing. It does however to some degree contradict the essential nature of fugue as being a conversation between four (or three) voices of equal importance, and I do find the often relentless emphasis on the fugue subjects as breaking the flow of the music in an unsubtle way.

At the same time, I must note that Ms Boyle produces some very beautiful sounds and textures, and her speeds are well chosen even if not everyone will enjoy the degree of rubato she employs. She plays only the main Contrapunti, including both versions of the two which can be played also upside down (rectus and inversus) but excluding the canons and the Fugue for two keyboards. The final, incomplete, Fugue simply stops where the manuscript breaks off. Whether by accident or design the second of the invertible Fugues has the inversus coming before the rectus although the booklet shows them as appearing in the conventional order.

I would certainly not choose this recording if I were to be restricted to a single version of the work, but as a useful contrast or antidote to more severe versions it does have a legitimate place. It may indeed appeal to anyone who has been put of the music previously because of its reputation or unsympathetic performances. I note that the website of one supplier catalogues it under “New Age” and this is surely a very perceptive decision. I remain uncertain as to whether I like it and there are many moments which I find inexplicable, but I cannot deny the beauty and character that is given to the music - rather than extracted from it - at other times. At the right time and in the right mood you may find this irresistible – I can see it becoming a cult version in some circles – but this is very much a recording you should sample before purchase if possible.

John Sheppard





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


      Composer surveys
      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

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


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

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



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

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
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
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
Web Ring
Translation Service

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

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.