JS Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080; Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV668a
PERFORMER: Konstantin Lifschitz (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: C 802 102 A

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Notwithstanding Albert Schweitzer’s proposal that The Art of Fugue is ‘purely theoretical’, or Wilfrid Mellers’ mind-picture of ‘Bach playing alone to God and himself in an empty church’, it has been recorded by orchestra, quartets of strings, viols, saxophones and recorders, organists, harpsichordists and pianists. Its greatness is that it works in all media.

Konstantin Lifschitz’s dry-ish Bechstein clarifies the intricacies of Bach’s counterpoint. He picks out fugal and imitative entries subtly but clearly, effectively analysing the contrapuntal miracles for the listener. But there’s nothing inaptly pianistic about his playing, with minimal pedal, no added octaves and narrow dynamic range. He characterises contrasting styles effectively, the opening fugues studied and reserved, then crisp in the ‘French-style’ No. 6 and rattling exuberantly through the running textures of No. 9.

We get all versions of the totally invertible No. 12 (a stunning compositional tour de force) and, for No. 13, Lifschitz plays a multi-tracked duet with himself, including the ad lib parts in Bach’s two-keyboard option. No. 11’s octave-plus of chromatic scale and hidden ‘B-A-C-H’ figure is most moving, while the final fugue is haunting – thoughtfully and lovingly played. 

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I hardly dare admit admiration for the unfashionable modern instruments of the Amsterdam Baroque Soloists (Ottavo 48503) – but Lifschitz matches any of the current piano offerings. George Pratt