Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge (Contrapunctus I-XI); Overture in B minor, BWV 831

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LABELS: Biddulph
WORKS: Die Kunst der Fuge (Contrapunctus I-XI); Overture in B minor, BWV 831
PERFORMER: Edward Aldwell (piano)
The well-worn controversy over the intended medium for Bach’s most awesome compendium of contrapuntal techniques has always struck me as supremely pointless. Any medium intrinsically well-suited to the requirements of this music is valid and the piano would seem better-suited, from the point of view of contrapuntal clarity and melodic suppleness, than any other single instrument. Glenn Gould’s rapturous paean to Bach’s ‘sublime instrumental indifference’ may be a trifle overstated, but the point holds good. This extraordinary work (Bach’s last) is as pure as music gets, but to infer from this that it is primarily an academic treatise, only incidentally concerned with the expression of emotion and spiritual experience, would be a spectacular miscalculation. Neither Feltsman nor Aldwell comes anywhere near to making that mistake. That said, Feltsman seems rather more concerned with performance and projection than Aldwell, who largely abjures the dynamic and colouristic variety so evident in Feltsman’s account. With Aldwell, whose approach is relatively austere, though not wilfully ascetic, the primary emphasis seems to be on the contemplative, even meditative aspects of the music. Contrapuntally, both players are exemplary. Jeremy Siepmann