J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Die Kunst der Fuge

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Rinaldo Alessandrini
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Concerto Italiano
Soloists:Laura Pontecorvo, flute
Paolo Faldi, oboe
Andrea Mion, oboe d'amore
Maria De Martini, bassoon
Francesca Vicari, violin
Mauro Lopes, violin
Ettore Belli, viola
Luigi Piovani, cello
Rinaldo Allesandrini, harpsichord
Individual Works:BWV 1080
Contrapunti 1-15
Four canons
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Opus III
Catalog Number:30-191
Year Released/Recorded:1999
Total Playing Time:74.27
Comments:John Stone said:

With hundreds of recordings of Art of Fugue on the market, I suppose one wants to find an angle to distinguish oneself from the rest (e.g. a piccolo quartet version). Rinaldo Alessandrini, known for some excellent recordings of Baroque concerti, has done just that: with his mixed ensemble of period and contemporary instruments, he's managed to find ways of turning much of the Art of Fugue into a French concerto of the high Baroque, and uncovers the latent Rameau in the tight confines of the contrapuntal texture. How does he achieve this? By excess: frequent use of French or Italian ornamentation, florid turns and trills, dotted rhythms (where there are none written), sporadic use of the harpsichord as continuo with rolled chords (the worst offense, in my opinion), and portentous dynamic contrasts and rubatos generally heard at the close of large orchestral works. Thus, he has infused into Bach's last great tribute to counterpoint the galant and rococo trends in music the composer was reacting against in his later years. The result is often disconcerting and occasionally off-putting, but one may one want to know whether the interpretation stands up on its own, these excesses notwithstanding. I would say, if you are looking for Bach "light", the Art of Fugue not for contemplation but for delight in music-making of the highest order, this is perhaps the disc for you. If you want to have a simultaneously aesthetic and intellectual experience, and want to be moved as well, definitely not the way to go (though the final, quadruple fugue is a notable exception, being played with great feeling and restraint by a string quartet to the sudden end). A few more specific points: the tempi are generally fast and upbeat (in keeping with the galant approach), the instrumentation is occasionally inconsistent (two separate instruments will share a voice here and there, not helpful for contrapuntal clarity), and the two mirror fugues' halves are for some reason not in logical order, but are jumbled. Apart from these and the above-mentioned drawbacks, the disc is not all that bad. The style may be at variance with contrapuntal clarity and simplicity, but the performances are good throughout. And, when the harpsichord plays only the notes written, or when it's left out altogether (e.g. in the 10th, 11th, and final fugues), the sound is refreshingly clear and beautiful. And so, all around, a mixed bag. Caveat emptor.

Gilles chaumel said:

Le meilleur enrregistrement? Il existe plusieurs enregistrements de "rÚfÚrence" de cette oeuvre. Ceux du Musica Antiqua Kln (Goebel), d'Hesperion XX (Savall) et du quatuor Keller pour n'en nommer que quelques-uns. Mais alors que la plupart font ressortir l'incroyable multiplicitÚ des voix, en insistant sur leur clartÚ et leur complexitÚ, celle du Concerto Italiano est toute en couleurs et en chaleur; les couleurs instrumentales habituellement utilisÚes par Bach dans l'ensemble de ses compositions: le violon, le hautbois d'amour, le basson, le clavecin, la flte, etc.

Et þa donne un Art de la fugue interprÚtÚe comme une cantate, avec ½ Úmotion . Rinaldo Alessandrini et son ensemble proposent donc aux auditeurs un jeu moÙlleux, sensuel et chantant, Ó l'italienne quoi! Ils en font vÚritablement une oeuvre Ó ½ Úcouter et atteignent ainsi le but qu'ils se sont fixÚs. C'est jouissif!!

La meilleure version? La plus vivante en tout cas. Bonne Úcoute!

Jan Hanford said:

I love this cd, it's really beautiful. My only (minor) complaint is that the solo harpsichord tracks are too soft, compared with the instrumental tracks. It is indeed an ornate, lively and "light" version of The Art of Fugue which does not make it any less enjoyable. I recommend it.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • John Stone
  • Gilles chaumel
And from the collection of Jan Hanford
Date First Submitted:07/08/1999