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Bach: The Art of Fugue
     

Bach: The Art of Fugue

5.0 1
by Emerson String Quartet
 
Bach never specified the instrumentation for his last work, The Art of Fugue, giving performers and transcribers wide leeway to realize this contrapuntal magnum opus, and there have been versions for orchestra, brass ensemble, keyboards (piano, harpsichord, organ), and even saxophone quartet. The four-part texture and overall sobriety of the music have made

Overview

Bach never specified the instrumentation for his last work, The Art of Fugue, giving performers and transcribers wide leeway to realize this contrapuntal magnum opus, and there have been versions for orchestra, brass ensemble, keyboards (piano, harpsichord, organ), and even saxophone quartet. The four-part texture and overall sobriety of the music have made The Art of Fugue particularly attractive to string quartets, however, and a number of fine ensembles have recorded it. The Emerson String Quartet, known for the intensity of their performances, give a finely focused interpretation here, with sparing use of vibrato -- though they avoid the white, viol-like tone of the Keller Quartet (ECM). They shape the lines expressively, yet there is a feeling of restraint that seems entirely appropriate to music of such Olympian rigor. Contrapunctus XIV, which, as the legend goes, the blind composer dictated from his deathbed, is played just as Bach left it, the four lines trailing off into silence where he breathed his last. It is one of the most moving moments in all music, and the simple sincerity of the Emerson's version makes a powerful effect. Not to end on such a somber note, there is the beautiful chorale setting "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermet", BWV 668a -- a traditional encore for The Art of Fugue that provides a beatific yet still solemn sense of closure.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - James Manheim
Bach's "Art of Fugue" came down to us without any clear indication of the performing forces desired. The fugue was primarily a keyboard genre, and this massive, almost mystically complex extraction of well over an hour's worth of contrapuntal treatments from a simple fugue subject is most often performed on a harpsichord or organ. But the work's abstract quality has invited performances on other instruments for decades. String quartet versions on recordings go back to a Roth Quartet version of the 1930s, in an arrangement to which Roy Harris contributed. But this is a risky way to go, riskier even than novelty arrangements for saxophones and the like that maintain and exploit a sharp contrast between music and medium. The string quartet was not part of Bach's compositional world, but its origins were temporally close enough to the "Art of Fugue" to make quartet performances sound just a little "off" from Bach's Baroque sound ideal. The liner notes of the Emerson Quartet's new recording of the work play up the cerebral aspect of the string quartet image; they seethe with diagrams and deep thoughts. But the cerebrations of a Classical string quartet are the witty dialogues of Diderot, not the solitary metaphysics of Leibnitz. The Emerson seems cognizant of the single-minded intensity of this unique work, but the group doesn't always negotiate the pitfall of sounding too much like a string quartet -- too elegantly expressive, too much like the conversation among learned friends to which the string quartet is so often likened. Bach's fugues aren't conversations, and though lovers of the "Art of Fugue" will find plenty to interest them here, those looking for their first "Art of Fugue" might investigate a keyboard version instead -- a work this concentrated is best appreciated without distraction.
Gramophone - Rob Cowan
I still admire [the Emersons'] Classical exegesis, the liveliness and urgency of their phrasing and the warm glow of their tone. Theirs is an eminently satisfying performance.

Product Details

Release Date:
08/12/2003
Label:
Deutsche Grammophon
UPC:
0028947449522
catalogNumber:
000090802
Rank:
47277

Related Subjects

Tracks

  1. Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue), BWV 1080  - Johann Sebastian Bach  - Christopher Alder  - Nikolaus Boddin  -  Emerson String Quartet

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Bach: The Art of Fugue 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am very pleased with this thoughtful album and its liner notes. This thing is worth its weight in gold.