Though unfinished at his death, Johann Sebastian Bach' The Art of Fugue is both his musical last testament and a cornerstone of Western composition. At once a miracle of intellectual achievement, musical invention, technical challenges and emotional
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'Art of Fugue' Played by a Master Scholar/Musician, Sergio VartoloAug. 10 2009
J Scott Morrison
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This 2 CD set comprising Bach's 'Art of Fugue' is extraordinary both in the playing and recording, and in the musicological preparation, all by the Bolognese scholar/harpsichordist, Sergio Vartolo, some of whose earlier recordings I have admired. Trabaci: Keyboard Music (Book I, 1603), Keyboard Music (Book II 1615), Johann Jacob Froberger: Toccatas and Partitas. Vartolo has published a new edition of 'Art of Fugue': the facsimile edition of Mus.ms. Bach P200, Bach's autograph and of the printed edition published by the Florence Studio per Edizioni scelte (SPES): [...] He does not attempt any completion of the unfinished portion of AoF, and in his booklet notes rather takes to task those who do so, implying that no one could possibly equal the genius of Bach, a notion one can certainly agree with. And for the Fuga a 2 Clav. BWV 1080/18.1 [13.1.bis] and the Alio modo Fuga a 2 Clav. BWV 1080/18.2 [13.2bis] he is joined, at a second keyboard, by Maddalena Vartolo (from her picture I cannot determine whether she is his daughter or his wife). He plays a Taskin model that copies a French style of harpsichord. Its tone is clear and free of the clang and chuff so often heard in other harpsichords. Vartolo uses discreetly varying registrations according to the character of the particular fugue he is playing. His masterful use of agogics, breaths, ornaments and articulations are in the service of bringing out the separate voices of the polyphony. He notes that he plays from a four-stave score which helps to distinguish, for the player, the separate fugal lines. His booklet notes are a model of scrupulous musicology but they are leavened by occasional flashes of humor, as when he comments wryly that 'the nose can be useful' when playing the fermata of the Contrapunctus inversus a 3. Or when he refers to András Schiff, whose recordings of Bach's keyboard works he admires, as 'alias Andrea Barca'.
There is a much fuller set of Vartolo's notes, not included in the booklet, at [...] and they are worth examining.
I cannot recommend this performance of Bach's towering ultimate masterpiece highly enough. Its budget price makes it all the more attractive.