Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge (orch. Bergel)

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Budapest Music Center
WORKS: Die Kunst der Fuge (orch. Bergel)
PERFORMER: Cluj PO/Erich Bergel
CATALOGUE NO: BMC CD 011 (distr. Metronome)
The late conductor Erich Bergel, like Sergiu Celibidache, believed in the unique, unrepeatable aspects of live performance, and made less than a handful of commercial recordings. This performance of Bach’s Art of Fugue, orchestrated by Bergel, stems from a 1991 radio recording. Tempi are generally moderate, and the conductor’s penchant for long legato lines, seamless note attacks and soft-grained accentuation mirrors the least attractive aspects of his one-time mentor Herbert von Karajan’s later Bach performances. The murky, dynamically restricted engineering is not unlike peering through the wrong end of a telescope, and further reduces Bach’s lucid lines to textural pudding. Moreover, the Cluj Philharmonic is not a world-class ensemble, as revealed in the emaciated string tone (in Contrapunctus 10, for example) and dicey intonation (about half of the final chords or, in the canons, the concluding unisons). Bergel’s completion of Bach’s unfinished final fugue recaps the first fugue’s exposition, makes a few chromatic detours that Reger would recognise more readily than Bach and resolves with Brahms’s pedal-pointing spirit smiling down on the proceedings. In sum, all reverence and no dance makes this Art of Fugue a dull buy. Jed Distler

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