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Customer reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge
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on 12 October 2008
Bach - Art of Fugue, BWV1080

This unfinished masterpiece is played on the modern piano by Grigory Sokolov who usually dislikes studio recordings. Unlike performances by chamber ensembles, the sound of the piano helps the listener appreciate the clear texture of the composition and the prowess of the instrument. Also, the piano sounds more natural than the plucked sound of the harpsichord to the modern listener.

This recording is excellent. Sokolov plays with remarkable sensitivity and ambidexterity, and the tempi consistently appear to be right (to this review's liking). His playing reminds me of Sviatoslav Richter who was known for the natural flow of notes and a complete lack of idiosyncrasy (as far as Bach was concerned, anyway).

I would also describe this recording as such. It is not surprising since Sokolov was taught by Emil Gilels, another great "Russian" pianist - from Odessa in Ukraine like Richter.

The recorded sound is very natural and clear. This 2-CD set is a valuable addition to usual versions played by chamber ensembles.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 13 December 2011
Grigory Sokolov is not as well known as he might be owing to his dislike of recording. In this, he is like another great Russian pianist, whom to my ears he most resembles: Richter. They both exude authority and commitment and are sometimes accused of being heavy-handed and percussive; indeed, I pity both the piano and its tuner once Sokolov has finished battering it into submission, yet you could never say he lacks finesse or control. His technique is quite astonishing; he knows exactly what he wants to do and does it. His liberal use of a certain staccato pointedness might for some become a mannerism but he is by no means as wilful as Gould and that clarity is especially suited to bringing out the "voices" in Bach and avoiding any Romantic soupiness. He is able to play this unfinished masterpiece as if it were an animated conversation amongst four mighty intellects and his tone is unfailingly round and beautiful.

I had previously belonged to the camp convinced that the most palatable way to hear this music was in arrangements of the kind Marriner gave us years ago on Philips, employing a variety of instruments, but I am now a convert to the purity and unity conferred on this mighty work by so persuasive an advocate for its performance on the modern piano as Sokolov. He does not seem to me to admit any ego in to his interpretation; this is as close as it gets to a performer sounding a like a channel for Bach's spirit yet it is no more anonymous than it is obtrusive.

The 1982 digital sound is very acceptable. The fluid, refined Partita is a lovely bonus - an ideal companion piece.
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on 28 April 2014
Every time I hear this recording disc I learn something. Sokolov's performance is a 90 seminar on practically every aspect of Bach's keyboard music. Added to this are his incomparable technique, clarity and lightness of touch, and his impecable rhythmic control, lightened by unexpected touches of humour and suspense. Never a dull moment in this most cerebral of the Bach keyboard repertoire. My choice for my desert island disc.
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on 26 February 2004
Purists may prefer the "authentic" sound of the harpsichord, but Grigory Sokolov's piano rendition of the great Art of Fugue would doubtless have pleased Bach. This is a superb recording, full of warmth, character and pianistic brilliance.
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on 22 August 2011
I found Sokolov's interpretation far too 'grey' and one-dimensional. Even such a profound work as the Art of Fugue needs some contrast, and Sokolov's rather heavy-handed approach doesn't provide any. There have certainly been better recordings of this masterpiece, both on the piano and other instruments.

Having said that, I doubt this recording will displease Sokolov's fans.
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on 13 February 2013
"Preacher, you`ve brought our organisation into disrepute. I long for the day when I can cast you from our ranks - but today is not that day. Against my better judgement, I'm going to give you one more chance!"

So spoke Ernst Hogwood-Blofeld, the Number One of SPECTRE (Sinister Period Practice Enacted to Counter Traditional Readings Everlastingly). The recipient of his ire was Father Melchizedek OP, the High Priest of Period Practice and the self-proclaimed Chaplain of the same-said organisation.

"I must protest," the cleric snapped back in falsetto. "I insist that you call me `Your Grace'! Secondly, how was I to know that Cato, my trustee, would invest the shares of my Blind Trust in a factory that makes blow-up rubber dolls of Philippe Jaroussky!"

"I'm already annoyed at myself," Hogwood-Blofeld sighed to himself, ignoring the comment. "I know this is going to turn out badly - I know it in my bones. But there is no-one else available!" He paused. "OK, here is your mission. . . . . . Travel tonight to the town of Gottmadingen. There you will board a train. There are two carriages, one of which will carry you, your trusty manservant Cato and select members of the Musica Antique Koln, commanded by Reinhard Goebel: they will act as guards. The other carriage contains Grigory Sokolov . His carriage is completely sealed off to the outside world. Why? Simple: Solokov is a contagion to our cause. He plays Bach on the piano and . . . and . . . and . . . the feeble minded are attracted to his keyboard antics. Sokolov must be returned to Russia. Deposit him at the Finland Station in St Petersburg. I don't care how much trouble he stirs up in Scythia. Hopefully we'll never hear of him again!"

"Surely I can convert Sokolov to our cause," Father Melchikzedek yapped, "if only I can expose him to the `Art of the Fugue' as it should be played: on a spruce harpsichord with the correct temperament!"

"Don't be a fool," Hogwood-Blofeld hollered. "Sokolov is an adversary beyond your strength. He does not give a fig for your prattle! He is an ideological enemy and an incorrigible one at that! Do you think I went to the expense of sealing off that carriage for no good reason?"

The conversation ended at that point. With Cato at the wheel of the Silver Hornet, the cleric was soon away and chasing down the miles. Hours later, he joined the train at Gottmadingen. Night had fallen so he was shown to his palatial cabin where he spent an hour or so reflecting on the writings of St David of Munrow.

This Sokolov is nothing more than a charlatan, the cleric thought to himself after switching off the light. I have confronted much worse enemies - such as that Canadian pianist who turned into a Werewolf. Besides, it is pure heresy to play Bach on a monstrous Steinway: it's all exaggeration and bumptiousness, a late 19th C sensibility applied to some of Bach's most eternal music.

As he mused to himself in such a fashion, the cleric could hear the rumble of a Steinway piano in the background. Someone was besmearing the Second Partita with torque.

"Yes, yes, my dear little heretic," he hissed, "tomorrow we're going to have a little confrontation! An exorcism will cure you of your wicked ways! Soon enough, you'll be playing Bach on a 1646 Ruckers harpsichord! It will be my greatest triumph!"

Before dawn, Father Melchizedek rose from his cold bed and donned his cassock. With a bottle of holy water in hand, he opened the door of his cabin: the other occupants of the carriage were still asleep. Ever so quietly, he tiptoed to the end of the corridor and stepped onto the bridge that led to the second carriage. Its door was emblazoned with the seal of SPECTRE. Various bio-hazard signs had also been attached to its frame.

"Bah! Humbug!" Father Melchizedek hissed to himself as he broke the seal, wrenched open the door and stepped inside the second carriage. It was ill-lit. He was about to utter an imprecation from the 1612 Rite of Exorcism when he was stopped dead in his tracks. A Steinway stood at the end of the carriage. An old man with a beatnik set of hair was slouched over the keyboard. Seconds later, the Russian pianist launched into Canon 16 from the Art of the Fugue. Resistance was useless. This was no mushy survey of BWV 1080; rather, it was a lesson on how to evoke the spirit of Johann Sebastian Bach on an instrument that was foreign to him. Beauty of tone was its keynote. The cleric stood rooted to the floor, overwhelmed by the control, lucidity and power of the rendition. Stacato aside, it was an enduring source of wonder that the pianist could employ such a fat tone which actually promulgated the polyphony of this wondrous score. What momentum he generated in the fugues! Contrapunctus XIX unfolded ever so naturally like the constellations appearing in the twilight sky. Indeed, far from being a dry academic exercise, the Art of the Fugue emerged as a labour of immense love and the summation of a life spent in homage of Pythagoras and the Great Architect. The sound was excellent.

As the cleric stood there dead to the world and its petty concerns, he was pushed brusquely to the side. While he was still finding his feet, Sokolov strode onto the bridge and leapt from the train into the semi-darkness. Seconds later, bullwhip in hand, Reinhard Goebel burst into the carriage.

"Gott in Himmel! Vat have you done, Vater Melchizedek! Vat have you done! Just vait until I have informed Number One back at SPECTRE!"

Without a moment's hesitation, Father Melchizedek joined Sokolov in the darkness.
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on 23 October 2011
This is a great double CD. Sokolov's playing is wonderful in this really profound music which reveals Bach in all his glory.
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on 6 September 2015
I like it!
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