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HALL OF FAMEon 14 January 2010
I put the word 'modern' in scare quotes to indicate that this is a recording on the piano that does not, however, like Feltsman, romanticize the music. What some (on the American Amazon site) may consider boring, straightforward, clinical etc. I consider to be honoring Bach's intention. Bach was writing before the onset of romantic era taffy-pulling of phrasing and his music really ought to be played that way. This is not to say that Aimard isn't a master of phrasing and certainly his ability to bring out various contrapuntal strands is virtually unmatched. As for technique and musicianship, there are few pianists playing today who are in the same league as Aimard. That's probably the reason he can, once he sets his mind to it, play such disparate music as Messiaen's 'Vingt Regards' and Bach's 'Art of Fugue' as stunningly as he does.

If you are wanting a piano version of 'Art of Fugue' and, much as I love Sokolov's version (available, in any event, only in a multi-disc set), if you only want one version this is the one to have.

Scott Morrison
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on 13 November 2014
I recently spent much time studying three versions of the Art of Fugue, being enough irritated with a harpsichord version that I went out and bought Aimard on piano and the Emerson Quartet doing it on four string instruments. These add to the old vinyls I had from years ago of a chamber orchestral arrangement and the lean, intellectual playing of Charles Rosen on the piano, long out of the catalogue. So now I have five versions, plus the score itself, a fair portion of which I play in my own semi-competent way.

Of the five, I think Aimard and the Emerson win pretty easily.

There’s no doubt that the four string players bring out the individual voice lines far more effectively than could ever be possible on a keyboard, so, in music that is fundamentally and supremely contrapuntal, this really is the answer. The Emerson also do a lovely job of it, although I regret their acquiescing in a sentimental tradition of playing a completely irrelevant chorale at the end. They’re particularly good in the bigger fugues, and bring the unfinished one to its open end really effectively.

But I put Aimard up alongside them because he is so musical. He brings a delightful variety of touch and mood, winning me over especially to some of the canons which I had never taken too seriously – he makes the long slow one sound a counterpart to the transcendent 25th Goldberg variation, which pays a high compliment to the music. He also shapes the conclusions to the fugues handsomely, using precisely paced ritardandi to great effect when Bach himself sometimes falls a little short in preparing for the final bars.

I am unimpressed by Davitt Moroney’s harpsichord version. His instrument is supposed to be made to sound as an eighteenth century harpsichord would have done, but its sound is heavily “in your face” and the lack of variety in its qualities only make me regret once more the pain that the “authentic instruments at all costs” outlook causes. Of course Bach would have been much surprised to hear his music played on a modern grand piano, but for me the objective is to hear creative performance.

Lastly I think the chamber orchestral options are really a bit much. It’s interesting to hear this great series of compositions in so much instrumental colour, but in the end I think it makes for a distraction even allowing for the repetition inherent in the work’s themes. Go for Aimard or the Emerson.
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on 21 March 2014
Since Bach did not leave any instructions about instrumentation or tempi for this unfinished work, there are a large number of recordings, using a variety of instruments. I have a number of different recorded versions - harpsichord, piano, small ensemble, chamber orchestra and string quartet. This work is austere and sombre (being written in D minor) so that I prefer listening to piano solo versions or small string versions to more colourful instrumentation that includes wind instruments. I think they can bring out the structure of the work more clearly.

I find the present recording by Aimard most illuminating. His technical proficiency is awesome, as you would expect, and the contrapuntal aspect of the work is crystal clear.

One of my favourite recordings has been a piano version by Charles Rosen, a pianist, an academic and a polymath writer, all in one. (I recommend his "Piano Notes" to lovers of piano music.) But, having been recorded in 1967, it suffers slightly inferior recording quality by today's standard. The present recording by Aimard benefits from excellent sound quality produced by DG.
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on 14 August 2008
Those who think of Pierre-Laurent Aimard primarily as the superb interpreter of Messaien or Carter only, will be pleasantly surprised hearing his Deutsche Grammophon recording. Those of us alreadly familiar with his splendid Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann recordings for Warner Classics will not be surprised with his debut recording for Deutsche Grammophon, an utterly sublime, truly revelatory account of J. S. Bach's "Art of the Fugue". Why? In one aspect Aimard is the best current student of contemporary polyphonic music for the keyboard, and he uses that knowledge to great advantage in these performances, showing utmost respect for Bach's intentions, without trying to insert his contemporary music-informed style of performance (I strongly disagree with another reviewer who finds this recording to be excessively Romantic. Having heard many of these works performed live at Carnegie Hall by him earlier this spring, they merely confirmed another strong side of his multi-faceted musical personality as a superb performing artist with a keen interest in musical scholarship too.). Without question this is one of Aimard's finest recordings, and a brilliant start to his newly cemented partnership with Deutsche Grammophon.
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on 16 September 2013
The Art of the Fugue seems to be one of these works that challenges the non-expert listener. One suspects that part of Bach's intent here was pedagogical -- to educate keyboard players -- but that like Chopin with his Etudes there was a compulsion to make the sections aesthetically interesting as well as technically challenging. Bach, of course, working with fugues, was constricting himself rather more than Chopin was. But willy-nilly Bach educates the ear too, challenging the non-expert listener to try to follow the voices and development, and the listener will do that only if the ear is sufficiently enchanted by the sound. I was happy to listen to Aimard's clear and warm accounts of material that can seem a bit austere, and DG has given his piano a nice sound image. There isn't much dynamic variation (perhaps in deference to the lack of dynamic potential in the keyboard instruments available to Bach), but there is tonal variety and subtle variations in tempo so that each item comes across with its individual character. I liked them all but found the Canon alla Decima and the Canon per Augmentationem (tracks 17 and 19) particularly eloquent. Only one complaint -- the booklet could be more informative about the music. Instead we get a bit of an interview with Aimard about his interest in it. Nothing wrong with that, but we need more substance.
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on 9 October 2010
This is Pierre-Laurent Aimard's first release on DG and the fact that he has chosen Bach's 'Art Of Fugue' makes this record doubly interesting. Aimard's precision is wonderfully suited to Bach and the superb sound quality of this recording makes this altogether a thrilling listen. It's a highly skilled performance - recommended.
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on 9 June 2012
"Well, the Ides of March are come," Father Melchizedek OP, the High Priest of Period Practice whinnied to the William Christie as they were being driven towards the Theatre of Pompey where the Senate of SPECTRE (Sinister Period-Practice Enacted to Counter Traditional Readings Everlastingly) was due to meet.

"Ay, Your Holiness, but not gone!" the conductor of Les Arts Florissants replied back. "After all, your trusty man-servant Cato has gone missing for the past month or so. Not a week goes by without our people have to thwart an assassination attempt on your life by our adversaries at Universal Imports. And strange to say, you have enemies inside SPECTRE itself!"

The cleric snorted back.

"Karajan-ists die many times before their deaths. The valiant HIPster never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come."

Their destination was upon them. Upon alighting from their vehicle, Father Melchizedek was surrounded by supplicants, each of them seeking his benediction for this project or that, be it Buxtehude, Schütz or Dowland. As he was being jostled by the crowd, the High Priest of Period Practice glimpsed an oriental face; the man was trying to push his way towards the crowd to reach him but the throng refrained him from doing so.

"Yond' Masaaki Suzuki," the cleric commented to his companion, "has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much and probably plays at 430HZ: such men are dangerous!"

Ten minutes later, Father Melchizedek stood in front of the Senate. With his pectoral cross glittering in the light, he drew himself up to his full height (some five feet tall) and shrieked out in his falsetto voice:

"Friends, HIPsters, journeymen, lend me your clipped phrases; I come to bury Bach, not to praise him."

"I say, what tommyrot is this!" Jeggy shrieked as he leapt from his marble-bench in fury. He was not alone: many a colleague rose to their feet to voice their displeasure. Father Melchizedek pleaded for calm.

"No, I am not referring to the divine Johann Sebastian Bach as played on an instrument that he would have recognised: a harpsichord. I am referring to the Bach who is degraded and perfumed by being performed on a Steinway!"

A conflagration erupted in the assembly. Fists were thrown. In the kerfuffle, a figure darted over to Father Melchizedek. Before security could intervene, he repeatedly stabbed the cleric with a compact disc and then made good his escape. The High Priest of Period Practice, his toga sodden with blood, slumped to the ground.

"O mighty Melchizedek!" the cleric yapped theatrically. "Dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories with a lute, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure?"

Come Monday morning, a report was on Ernst Hogwood Blofeld's desk.

"So how is our ecclesiastic friend?" the Head of SPECTRE snarled. "Who was behind it and what weapon did they use?"

"Father Melchizedek OP is perfectly fine," his assistance replied sprucely. "It was only a flesh-wound. All he needed was a couple of bandages but he refuses to leave the intensive care unit all the same! The assailant was likely to be Cato, as Maestro Suzuki is currently in Tokyo. As for the weapon, it was Pierre-Laurent Aimard's Art of the Fugue as played on a piano - hence the minor nature of the wound. There is much to like about his playing. There is a good balance between rhythmic bounce and legato. His attention to the polyphony cannot be gainsaid. Aimard develops quite a head of steam in Contrapuntus 8 a 3 - but it is the one instance where the listener sits up in his chair. Truth to tell, Aimard is hardly a threat to anyone. One never senses that one is in the presence of a master or that one is being taken on a journey from Contapunctus One to the colossal Fuga a 3 Soggetti which closes the work. One listens on admiringly but never in rapture. Moreover, there is a monochromaticism to the fugues and that can be partially attributed to Aimard's refusal to conjure up anything more from the piano than a circumscribed timbre; perhaps that arises from a fear of being indicted with romanticism. The recording is superb. If the would-be assassin had used the Sokolov, well, good Father Melchizedek might well be in a casket!"

"Organise some flowers for Father Melchizedek," Hogwood-Blofeld growled. "Make them petunias. We might have a chance to reuse them later in the week . . . . . ."
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