Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge

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LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Die Kunst der Fuge
PERFORMER: Colm Carey (organ)
Bach specified no instruments for The Art of Fugue and laid out the music on separate lines to make the counterpoint clear. All sorts of arrangements have been recorded – for symphony orchestra, mixed ensembles, string quartet (the Keller Quartet’s version is very good), even a quartet of recorders (the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet’s version is surprisingly effective) – but most of this compendium is playable by one person at a keyboard, except for the ‘mirror’ fugues, which are sometimes taken as duets. Colm Carey leaves these out, as well as the canons, which leaves 12 fugues including the one on three subjects that Bach left incomplete.


He plays the modern ‘classical’ organ of 26 stops (2 manuals and pedals), built by Leeuwen and restored by Flentrop in the Dutch Church in London. Though it has six more stops than the modern Czech organ played by Jaroslav TuÞma on his recording, the latter actually sounds a bigger, heavier instrument, partly due to a more atmospheric recording.


Size doesn’t matter, and Carey finds enough variety with restrained registration which he never repeats from one fugue to the next, using 4-foot only in No. 8 and bringing in the pedals in Nos 6 and 12. His approach contrasts with Wolfgang Rübsam’s agony-laden performance on two Naxos discs, where you sometimes wonder when the next note will arrive. Carey is admirably straight, and articulates distinctly though with a good sense of line. But with marginally more freedom, TÞuma has the edge on him for singing quality and includes (on a two-disc set) the mirror fugues and canons. Adrian Jack