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Die Kunst der Fuge
(The Art of Fugue)

Hans Fagius (organ)
BIS-CD-1034 (79.9 minutes)

The Art of Fugue is Bach's instrumental opus summus, just as the B minor Mass is his vocal opus summus. He did not live to complete it, though he was surely not far away from doing so, since it remains a substantial undertaking in every sense. We cannot be sure of the instrumental forces he intended, and different performers adopt different approaches; string quartet arrangements seem to be particularly in vogue these days.

That said, the organ remains the safest bet. It was Bach's own instrument, and its wide range of sounds allow for an imaginative response to the abstract nature of the score. Hans Fagius plays on the organ of the Garnison Kirke Copenhagen, his performance recorded in 1999. This organ is just a few years old, and while it sounds magnificent when required to offer a full and rich tone, there can be a certain lack of resonance, which means that the more introspective sections of the score want a little in atmosphere.

Fabius plays magnificently. To gain full benefit from his performance, it is better to listen to a longer sequence of movements than to sample individual ones. This is because the effect he seeks (which is perhaps the effect Bach seeks) is cumulative rather than small-scale. If you only hear the opening movement or two, there is a danger that the almost self-effacing nature of the sound will give a false impression. Take courage, and listen to more. The rewards are considerable.

Terry Barfoot


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