J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Art of Fugue

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Herbert Breuer
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Berliner Bach Akademie
Soloists:Ehrlich/Form, recorder
Pank/Pank, viola da gamba
Shore, oboe
Kern, clarinet
Kubina, horn
Forst, bassoon
Seidel/Buning, violin
Bauer, viola
Moosdorf, cello
Batzner/Marton, piano
Guggeis, vibraphone
Grabner, contrabass
Breuer, organ
Viola da Gamba
Individual Works:BWV 1080 Complete
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Arte Nova
Catalog Number:74465-2
Year Released/Recorded:2000
Total Playing Time:70:49
Comments:John Stone said:

As ensemble versions of Art of Fugue go, this is among the finest and most imaginative I have heard. Breuer has arranged the fugues for four quartets, including a straightforward string ensemble, a "Medieval" or early Baroque set of recorders and viols, and a modern quartet of piano, vibraphone, and bass. The results are startling and fresh. Breuer's instrumental choices are consistent throughout: the fugues that hark back to Stile Antico are given appropriately period instrument treatment; those that are syncopated (e.g. number 2), or otherwise "modern" for Bach's time are played by the modern ensemble, and the rest are handled with standard orchestral instruments. The canons are played on organ. The conglomeration might sound motley, but it works: the performances are superb, the tempi even and lacking in portentous rubati, and the choices in each fugue are inspired. Breuer manages to underscore the contemplative and austere quality of the sequence while maintaining a lively and timeless clarity of counterpoint. Close cousins to this recording like Lukas Foss's "The Art of Fuguing" are by comparisson sloppy, overblown-- drawing too much attention to intentionally different handlings. The motive behind both directors is consciously to wipe away cobwebs from the work. But Breuer's remains far more convincing a reappraisal of the music. Its variety of timbre is structurally and integrally supported by the music (historically and aesthetically), and is a joy to listen to. The final unfinished fugue with its three sections that look backward and forward from the late 1740s, warrants the full range of historical instruments it gets in the recording. By making the well-informed and in ways, risky, choices he has made, Breuer invites us to contemplate the time-specificity and timelessness of the music. At its budget price, this single disc is very highly recommended (perhaps in combination with more traditional renderings like that of Charles Rosen).

Jan Hanford said:

Forget it. Although there are some very nice arrangements, this version is ruined by the ridiculous use of vibraphone in some movements. I am not one to scoff at unusual transcriptions but this one simply does not work. And the use of solo organ on some movements is completely dull, bringing an already erratic flow to a dead stop. This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink arrangement is possibly the worst I've heard. Although a few of the arrangements are nice, too many are not. I thought any arrangement of Bach's Art of Fugue would be good since the music is so appealing. Wrong: this recording is a travesty to be avoided.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • John Stone
And from the collection of Jan Hanford.
Date First Submitted:12/02/2000