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Bach, J.S.: The Art of Fugue - Emerson String Quartet

Bach, J.S.: The Art of Fugue - Emerson String Quartet

1 Jan 2003
4.9 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Original Release Date: 1 Jan. 2003
  • Release Date: 6 Oct. 2003
  • Label: Decca (UMO)
  • Copyright: ℗© 2003 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Hamburg
  • Record Company Required Metadata: Music file metadata contains unique purchase identifier. Learn more.
  • Total Length: 1:19:52
  • Genres:
  • ASIN: B001LQQ8TO
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 51,137 in Albums (See Top 100 in Albums)
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Format: Audio CD
The number of reviews given here makes another from me superfluous but I should like to take issue with David Bryson's acerbic judgment on the ending of the work.

Essentially, the Art of Fugue is a cerebral exercise which can be produced on most keyboards or combinations of instruments. On the other hand, it's workings can be fully realised from the score without recourse to any instruments at all. Generally speaking, I am in accord with Mr Bryson regarding "emotion" - it has no place in the consideration of this work. Nevertheless, in this particular instance I feel an exception is required in respect of the ending (although it does not concern the music, per se).

I am not a particular fan of this quartet but having enjoyed this disc for several years, I consider that the Emersons play the AoF to perfection on this really excellent DG recording. Bach did not expire across the table during the writing of Contrapunctus XIV but their breaking off to leave it in its unfinished state with the BACH motif seemingly floating in some ghostly finality, to my mind at least, is musically acceptable in an historical sense, emotionally poignant and a thoroughly effective device. Perhaps I might feel differently if I was convinced of the rightness of any of the alternative endings subsequently put forward by others. For me, this version is just fine and I think the empty chairs in the cover photo is a clever allusion - assuming that it is . . .

However, I do agree with Bryson's views of the liner notes; these are unhelpfully pretentious.

Otherwise, this is a first class production; the un-coloured timbre evidently characteristic of the modern instruments used in this recording seems most appropriate.
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Format: Audio CD
Bach's "Art of Fugue" occupies an important position in his overall output representing his most structured exploration of counterpoint, one of Bach's key preoccupations. The collection opens with a simple fugue the theme of which is subsequently reworked again and again employing ever more sophisticated contrapuntal devices. This is deep and stiring music with much beauty which relieves the possibility of austerity.

The Art of Fugue is not scored for any stated instrument but fits well on keyboard where almost all of the pieces are playable as written; keyboard versions, therefore predominated in recording. However, the string quartet setting delivers the sense of the music very powerfully and I have to declare myself a fan of this approach though I do play these pieces at the harpsichord myself. The key advantage of the string quartet setting is that each instrument can follow the voice through with optimum phrasing and fluency - somthing that not even the best keyboard player can master given the complex fingering that fugues demand. From a listening point of view therefore I would argue that the quartet is superior. There is also a warmth in the music that is very appealing.

The Emerson Quartet delivers an inspiring and engaging rendition of this important work. Timing, phrasing and touch are exemplary thoughout and the overall impression is of a serene and confident progression through one of the most important pieces of music ever written.

Indispensable.
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By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 Jan. 2004
Format: Audio CD
Probably the first thing that needs saying here is that the anonymous performers are none other than the Emerson Quartet. The second thing that needs saying is that while the performance and recording are absolutely top-notch in my estimation, there are two things about this production that I quite strongly dislike. The first is that the big final fugue, believed to have been left unfinished by the dying composer, breaks off abruptly. To me, this is a completely pointless procedure. Either provide a conclusion or leave the piece unplayed altogether. Providing a conclusion here is not like trying to provide a missing last page to a symphony by Shostakovich or even by Haydn, where there would be no way of knowing what final surprises the composer might have in store. If Bach’s Art of Fugue is anything, it is some kind of ultimate in method and logical development. Bach’s own conclusion can’t be determined with complete certainty, but it can be predicted better than in most other works, and if one thing is absolutely certain it’s that Bach did not intend a sudden silence. There is a conclusion by Donald Francis Tovey, there is another used by Davitt Moroney in his eminent harpsichord rendering, and I expect there are numerous others. For anyone who cannot bear to listen to a single note not guaranteed as by Bach, an extra track could be created at the point where his manuscript leaves off, and the rest of us could ignore it and let the music play through to some coherent ending. My other problem is with a liner-note that I find utterly insufferable. Most music-lovers probably want some commentary and guidance in this abstruse and didactic score. What we are offered here is a text that tries to do incompatible things and does them both very badly.Read more ›
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Format: Audio CD
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.
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