The Well-Tempered Consort I
Beethoven: Preludes and Fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I & II; Musical Offering, BWV 1079 – Ricercars a3 & a6; Sinfonia No. 9, BWV 795; An Wassflüssen Babylon, BWV 653b etc
Linn Records CKD 618 66.55 mins
I see what they did there with the title, but this programme is in fact a first instalment of arrangements from both books of The Well-Tempered Clavier alongside moments from the Clavier Übung III and The Musical Offering. An academic exercise in counterpoint? Think again. In the hands of Phantasm this is anything but. Performing fugues with string quartets is an age-old device for selling the dialogue of these works, but in this consort of characters, new opinions are voiced and Bach’s invention is thrown into relief.
The consort sound is a balm of well-tempered, flowing sweetness, often heightened by judicious transpositions to maximise the instruments’ resonance, but at the fore is a playful sense of exploration into the chromatic corners and remote tonal areas originally intended to promote an otherworldly effect. Furthermore, the consort brings associations that add to the richness of Bach’s writing – in nomines and viol fantasias are but a whisper away from the vocal sighs of Prelude No. 22 (BWV 867), the expressive agony of the Sinfonia No. 9 (BWV 795) and the heartache of the Kyrie, ‘Gott heiliger Geist’ (BWV 671). When Bach dances into the raw edge of a 12-tone world in Fugue No. 24 (BWV 869) Phantasm are primed to liberate his modernity, and yet the antique associations of the instruments plays into the forward and backward views on musical taste taken by the two ricercars that bookend the programme.
The beautifully recorded Phantasm five extend to six as Liam Byrne joins for two numbers – adding further depth of field to this new perspective on beloved keyboard repertoire.
Find out more about JS Bach and his works here