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JS Bach: The Well-Tempered Consort, Vol. 2

Phantasm (Linn Records)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

JS Bach
The Well-Tempered Consort, Vol. 2: arrangements from Well-Tempered Clavier Books 1 & 2
Linn records CKD 657   70:05 mins


Whereas viol consort Phantasm’s first venture into reimagining JS Bach’s keyboard music ranged across The Well-Tempered-Clavier, the Musical Offering, and Clavier-Übung III, a welcome sequel restricts itself to the two volumes of the ‘48’ – their fugues especially. ‘Restricts’, however, is the least appropriate word to use in this context, for Laurence Dreyfus’s transcriptions generate fresh insights into the workings of Bach’s contrapuntal ingenuity and humanity – the latter not least because of the communal nature of the discourse, liberated from the controlling fingers of a single performer. And with fugues so numerically dominant, Dreyfus effectively proposes a companion ‘Art of Fugue’, albeit without the original’s singlemindedness of subject matter.

Six prelude and fugue pairings are retained, and of these the two major key preludes (in A and D from Book 2) wear their new sonorities with a particular lightness and grace that beguiles – taken at a brisk alla breve, the ensuing D major fugue unfolds its four-part cheerfulness with all-consuming deftness. Just occasionally a little extra ‘grit’ might have added pungency (as in the French-Ouverture spikiness of the G minor Prelude). But, freed from the harpsichord’s intrinsic issues with the decay of sound, pedal notes resolutely anchor; singing lines follow through and harmonies blossom, allowing the fugues to unfold with maximum ‘presence’, sagacity and spaciousness.

With continuo absent, the result sounds simultaneously ‘ancient and modern’. Moreover, the abiding intimacy of execution is beautifully matched by that of Linn’s recording in the generous sounding box of Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford. A rarefied pleasure perhaps, but an infinitely illuminating one too.

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Paul Riley