Bach: The Art of Fugue

Brecon Baroque, Rachel Podger
71:08
Channel Classics CCS38316

I haven’t heard as persuasive an account of The Art of Fugue  since Fretwork released their elegant version in 2002. In Brecon Baroque, Rachel Podger has gathered some of her stellar friends and made this fine CD which has clarity and passion, as well as thought-provoking decisions about scoring.

I have listened to a number of performances on the organ, which in some ways seems to be the obvious medium for such intellectually abstract and challenging music; but I find Podger’s acute judgment as to what might be the best combination of instruments to shape the character of each piece as sound as her flawless and committed playing. We have the Canons “alla Decima” and “alla Duodecima” played on the harpsichord, which appears in other movements – but not all – as a basso continuo. The string players can appear as two violins, viola and ‘cello, or as violin, two violas and ‘cello or any combination in trio. The order seems wholly logical, and the importance of this recording is greatly enhanced by a splendid essay by John Butt on the compositional techniques that are demonstrated in this extraordinary compendium of canonic and fugal writing Bach drew together as Die Kunst der Fuge. This booklet is a model for what a booklet should be, and it is a real treat to have such a scholarly but accessible essay.

The playing is wonderful – a viol-like edge and clarity where that is required; a sense of growing intensity through the gathering complexities of the work; and the final Contrapunctus left hanging, unfinished in the air with its wistful resolution unfulfilled. I much enjoyed this remarkable display of heartfelt musicianship and hope that the performance will receive the accolades it deserves.

David Stancliffe