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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080 [85:14]
Canonic variations on Von Himmel Hoch da komm’ich her, BWV 769/769a [14:41]
Musikalisches Opfer, BWV 1079 [54:53]
Fuga a 3 soggetti (fragment), BWV 1080/19 [9:28]
Matteo Messori (harpsichord, organ), Capella Augustana
rec. May 2005, May/June 2008 and July 2009, Sala Vasari, Bologna, and Stadtkirche, Waltershausen. DDD
Booklet notes on CD-ROM
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94061 [3 CDs: 54:59 + 44:56 + 64:21 & CD-ROM]

Experience Classicsonline

Bach’s The Art of Fugue has an imposing and somewhat mysterious reputation. There is evidence that Bach intended this work to provide a complete exhibition of his skills in composing counterpoint and fugues. After completing the work in the 1740s, Bach extensively revised and expanded his manuscript in the period before his death, although he did not live to see the final volume through the printers. The instrumentation for the score was not specified, and each voice is given a separate stave. This has led some musicologists to question whether the work was intended for practical performance at all. However Matteo Messori makes a convincing case that Bach “preferred to draw up a completely realized musical ‘treatise’ – in other words a practical exemplum – than to write a theoretical work on the possibilities of fugal realization on one subject”.

Bach’s instrumentation is in the nature of much learned commentary, and like all things is subject to changes in fashion. It used to be common, for example, to perform the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto using two flutes, whereas recorders are now more commonly used. However, the nature of the score means that performing The Art of Fugue is a much more speculative exercise than playing the Brandenburg Concertos. Each recording of The Art of Fugue is actually a realisation by the performers, depending on their particular theory of what Bach intended. Interpretation is also required when deciding on the order of pieces, and which ones to include. For example, there is controversy in particular about the final Fugue a 3 soggetti, which Messori puts at the end of The Musical Offering. The second disc of The Art of Fugue also includes a set of organ variations on the Christmas Lied Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ich her.

The third disc of the set is taken up with a performance of Bach’s other compendious masterpiece The Musical Offering. This work consists of a number of contrapuntal treatments of a theme submitted to Bach by Frederick II, King of Prussia. These versions comprise (in this recording) two ricercars, eight canons, a fugue, and a sonata for flute, violin and continuo. The last of these, the brilliant Trio Sonata, is a work in the galant style. Like The Art of Fugue, the Musical Offering provides no real certainty as to which pieces Bach intended the work to include, or in what order they should be played. Messori provides a thirteen page booklet (on the fourth CD) in which he sets out the musicological grounds for his realisations of these works.

Matteo Messori is a fine harpsichordist, who tempers a consistent pulse with some well judged rubato. There is, however, an overwhelming amount of solo harpsichord in this set. By comparison with Jordi Savall’s recordings with Hesperion XX and Le Concert des Nations, I found it quite austere. Savall uses a greater number of performers in these pieces than Messori, which gives the sound of his set much more variety. For example, Savall’s set of the Art of Fugue with Hesperion XX uses winds, strings, or a combination of both in the first eleven numbers. Messori plays all these numbers on harpsichord, the only variety being the use of a different instrument for the Contrapunctus 6 a 4.

Brilliant is to be commended for releasing such a scholarly set at its usual bargain price. Because of the instrumentation, however, I see it as appealing mainly to harpsichord specialists and Art of Fugue mavens. The recording is natural without being too close.

Guy Aron












































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