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Bach: the Art of Fugue.

Fretwork (Harmonia Mundi USA HMU 907296)

Bach's The Art of Fugue is a piece that should be found in every music lover's CD collection in multiple versions. Just yesterday at work I listened to a version for two harpsichords, while a few days before that I placed an order for yet another string quartet arrangement (I already own two or three quartet versions, but just can't resist). If you do not already own a version of this music, I would suggest this recording by Fretwork as a good place to start, for it presents the music in a simple enough setting to illuminate its beauty, richer in sound than a string quartet, but not overly fancy (can anyone forget the old Sheffield Labs recording of this work as arranged by Malloch [sp?], with its chamber orchestra augmented by percussion?).

Fretwork is a viol sextet consisting of Richard Boothby, Richard Campbell, Wendy Gillespie, Julia Hodgson, William Hunt, and Susanna Pell. The sound they bring to this work is somewhat archaic, but in the sense of having a timeless sonority to it; this is far from the thin, scratchy sound we sometimes associate with older-style instruments, and it is both appropriate to the music and pleasant to the ear.

The Art of Fugue is not music that will make you want to get up and dance, nor is it likely to make you want to sing. It is formal, highly structured, and complex; however, it has a simplicity to it, a sense of rightness and inevitability that makes the work just seem to flow. It may not be music that you will want to play often, but there will be times when you will not be satisfied with anything less than its rigor and perfection. At those times, this recording by Fretwork will be a most welcome addition to your CD library. Aside from a few extraneous subsonics early in the program (without a good subwoofer, you'll never notice, and even with one, you probably won't care anyway) the sound quality is first-rate.
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Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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