Reinhard Febel/JS Bach
18 Studies on The Art of the Fugue by JS Bach
Duo Tal & Groethuysen (piano)
Sony Classical 19439784132 164:20 mins (2 discs)
Composer, theorist and university professor, Reinhard Febel has based his 18 Studies for Two Pianos on Bach’s The Art of Fugue. Quite a challenge there and, compared with his four-hand arrangements of a selection of the composer’s chorales, a considerable, dare I say dangerous leap into deeper waters. I confess to having struggled with these studies, always longing to return to the real thing. There is no shortage of invention and, while the pieces are not mere transcriptions neither do they omit a note of Bach’s music. What Febel has done is to have made generous additions, rhythmic shifts and, to my ears at least, some rather startling effects. Among the most bewildering of them feature aggressively staccato notes introducing the Mirror Fugues. Contrapuntus 2, on the other hand, features one of the pianos in an ill-advisedly high register, providing not only an unwelcome distraction but also inadvertently highlighting a tonal shortcoming in the instrument itself.
The rewards are more to be found in the fluent rapport of Yaara Tal and Andreas Groethuysen who are clearly committed to the music and find more in it than I have done. But that, I believe, is the heart of the issue: Febel’s Studies are more amusing to play than to listen to. I hope some readers will disagree with me.