J S Bach: The Art of Fugue
Bach’s Art of Fugue might be the last word in fugal cunning, but given that it was published in open score, to whom does it fall? Pierre‑Laurent Aimard is the latest pianist to enter the fray – so consummating his exclusive signing to DG – and he rolls up his sleeves straightaway with a ‘Contrapunctus 1’ which might not hint at the spiritual journey proposed by a Koroliov or MacGregor in their recordings, but which at any rate keeps faith with Bach’s ‘two‑beats‑in‑a‑bar’ marking. It’s typical of his reluctance to romanticise, and what Aimard offers is perhaps one of the most intellectually rigorous piano versions available. No contrapuntal density defeats his forensic brain or articulate fingers.
But it’s an Art of Fugue to respect more than to love because Aimard’s quest to highlight the counterpoint often results in a clangorous attack which has been intensified by the close, unforgiving recorded sound. He does find lyricism and exhilaration, but there is an evenness of purpose which is both a strength (the sense of ‘goal’ is riveting), and a weakness when set against the pronounced poetry of Koroliov (Ligeti’s ‘Desert Island Disc’ incidentally) or MacGregor. If you can stomach Koroliov’s over-reverent slowing down for the ‘BACH’ section of the final fugue, his is an absorbing, revelatory pianism – but keep Aimard to hand as a corrective! Paul Riley