There are many apocryphal stories in the classical-music world, but the one in which Frederick the Great challenged Bach to improvise a six-part fugue on a theme of the king's own invention is true, and The Musical Offering was, after a period of further reflection, the result. As with all the works of Bach's later years, the work is both great art and a "teaching piece," which shows everything that he thought could be done with the king's theme. The Trio Sonata based on the theme is the only major piece of chamber music from Bach's last decades in Leipzig, and that makes the work and essential cornerstone of any Bach collection. This performance, led by Neville Marriner, is both polished and lively, and very well recorded. At a "twofer" price, coupled with The Art of Fugue, it's the preferred version of the work on modern instruments.
A new recording from violinist Rachel Podger is always worth attention. And before you even get to appreciating the first-class performances - faithful realizations of Bach’s Art of Fugue skillfully arranged for strings - you notice the immediate, vibrant presence of the instruments. The sound is stunning, reminiscent of the early days of digital recording, when listeners used to marvel at how realistic the sound was. Channel Classics has been doing this forever; we just may have forgotten how special it is when it’s done right.
2CD set "The Art of Fugue" is the long-anticipated 4th volume in Richard Troeger's ground breaking, world premiere series of Bach performed on the clavichord, exclusively from the Lyrichord Early Music Series. This edition features the complete Art of the Fugue, along with stunning violin transcriptions, and fantasias, including the thrilling "Chromatic Fantasia" and "Fugue." The first three volumes garnered raves reviews both here and abroad.
Even though Angela Hewitt's repertoire is quite extensive and diverse, encompassing the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and modern eras, her true specialty is the music of J.S. Bach, which she has recorded almost exclusively for Hyperion since the 1980s. With this recording of The Art of Fugue, Hewitt completes her long-running series of piano renditions of the solo keyboard works, and while not everyone is convinced that Bach composed this study of fugal techniques for the keyboard, Hewitt's performance is credible and satisfying. She controls the often unwieldy counterpoint by regarding the lines as if they were vocal parts, and her phrases are shaped by natural breathing points, as well as the different emotional qualities she brings to each fugue and canon. The Art of Fugue can be daunting for both performer and listener because its persistent tonality of D minor and monothematic material can be quite tedious in the wrong hands.
What you will find on this disc is A) contrapunctus I-IX played on two different organs in 1962; B) contrapunctus I II & IV from a1981 TV broadcast; C) contrapunctus IX XI & XIII in mono from a radio broadcast in 1967; D) the unfinished contrapunctus XIV from what may or may not be the same TV broadcast as B); and as a final filler E) a prelude and fugue on the name BACH from a studio recording in 1980. Items B)-E) are given on the piano.
“you might think…that a performance of Bach's work would not make for the best viewing on video. Yet being able to see a performance can heighten the musical experience - as here, where the players' gestures often clarify the music's structure and texture…In turn, sheer contrapuntal wizardry begins to spill over from cerebral into emotional appreciation.”