J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Art of Fugue

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Griegory Sokolov
Individual Works:Art of Fugue, BWV 1080
2nd Partita, BWV 826
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Opus III
Catalog Number:OPS 2025/26
Year Released/Recorded:2000 (reissue of 1982 recording)
Total Playing Time:cd 1: 54'39
cd 2: 55'33
Comments:Omri Tal said:

Very mature and contemplative performance!

Jan Hanford said:

This recording gave me a headache. Sokolov is an excellent pianist but he plays too loudly, or perhaps it was the piano which clanged a lot. He also does not play legato, he plays almost staccato with space between each note. This kind of choppy playing is no doubt extremely difficult, but I found it unpleasant to listen to. In some respects it was much like Glenn Gould (who I cannot tolerate), although Sokolov's performance did have somewhat of an emotional side. Overall, the performance was harsh to my ears, rather than energetic. There were some slower and quieter passages but they seemed to drag and, even then, the sound of the piano was not particularly pleasant. The booklet does not indicate what kind of piano was used.

I've read several very positive reviews of this cd so perhaps it just isn't my style. The inclusion of only one Partita is pointless. I'm not one of those people who thinks it's important to fill up every cd. Rather, I think it's important to present an appropriate program, regardless of the length. Not just fill up a cd because they can.

Max Berglund said:

I%ve listened a lot to two recordings of the Art of Fugue on the piano -- this one and Nikolayeva%s -- and this is the one I prefer, even though I wouldn%t want to be without any of them. It%s true that Sokolov plays in a somewhat special manner: "stacatto" so to say in the way he separates the notes in some of the fugues. This isn%t uncalled for, though, since it clarifies and brings out the different lines in an almost supernatural way when needed; from time to time you find yourself in doubt of whether it%s physically possible for a single man to produce that number of voices at the same time without it all jumbling together.

Sokolov also has the right drive in many of the fugues which distinguishes him from Nikolayeva who I often find a tad too bland and slow-moving. Good examples are contrapunctus #4 and #9, of which the later is a simply amazing performance. One exception is contrapunctus #17, though. Here Sokolov has chosen a far too slow tempo and Nikolayevas version is the one I like best.

As for the last, unfinished, fugue, Sokolov has a much better approach than Nikolayeva. Where she plays it in a rather bold and overly majestic manner (I might be wrong, but it sounds like she either doubles the bass notes or plays them an octave lower than they should be), Sokolov has a more humble and tranquil approach. He moves me deeply with his very intimate interpretation, whereas Nikolayeva leaves me with a distantly alienated, otherworldly feeling (which isn't altogether negative, though).

One thing%s undisputably better in the Nikolayeva version, however: the quality of the recording. Something which shouldn%t come as a surprise considering Sokolov%s Art of Fugue was recorded in Leningrad in the early 80's. But the sound is perfectly acceptable and doesn%t detract attention at all from the marvelous music being performed. All in all: a highly recommended recording.

As for the 2nd partita on the same album, it%s a bit rash over all. The closing capriccio isn%t to be missed, though -- exact and powerful without losing grace and beauty.

Asher Wade said:

If you are captivated by J.S. Bach, and you have been infatuated by Glenn Gould's piano performances, especially of Bach, then you are truly in for a treat with this CD. Grigory Sokolov's performance here is frighteningly beautiful. It's true, he doesn't hum-m-m, nor sing along with his playing, and he also doesn't mystify you with a "catch-you-off-guard" rubato like Glenn often does (and this does have it's place). However, this is not to say that I have fallen out with Glenn's performances, which I haven't, ...however, the power and the way Sokolov pushes the music with such emotional force, adding in the sparkling, clean brillance of his stacatto in the upper register of his piano, simply shakes the entire CNS (central nervous system). Two of the best examples of this are both on the second CD; Track #5: Canon 17 alla Duodecima in Contrapunto alla Quinta, and Track #10 Rondeau in Partita Nr. 2 in C-minor. Put these on "Rep 1" (repeat) on your CD player, turn down/off all bass and extra-bass supplements, turn up the tenor control, increase the volume and ...sail away! If only for these two tracks the whole CD would be worth purchasing, ...however, the entire Art of Fugue and, yes, the Partita (Nr. 2) are truly worth having, ...though oddly paired together.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Omri Tal
  • Max Berglund
  • Asher Wade
And from the collection of Jan Hanford.
Date First Submitted:10/01/1995