Rachel Podger’s Art of Fugue

Review by: David Vernier

podgerbachartof fugue

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 10

A new recording from violinist Rachel Podger is always worth attention. And before you even get to appreciating the first-class performances—faithful realizations of Bach’s Art of Fugue skillfully arranged for strings—you notice the immediate, vibrant presence of the instruments. The sound is stunning, reminiscent of the early days of digital recording, when listeners used to marvel at how realistic the sound was. Channel Classics has been doing this forever; we just may have forgotten how special it is when it’s done right.

For this recording there are five players who, depending on the context, cover different configurations consisting of violins, violas, cello, and harpsichord. Bach’s manuscripts and their successive incarnations (published with each voice on a separate staff) give us no fair conclusion as to performing medium or order of movements, although most of the work is playable on a keyboard instrument. That hasn’t stopped the proliferation of all manner of “realizations”, from saxophone ensemble to organ to accordion to chamber orchestra.

The choice of instrumentation here makes perfect sense, the delineation of lines, the clarity of texture, and even the expressive aspects of each player’s performance defines an approach to the work that is at once practical and musically captivating. However, no one who hears this rendition should be unaware of other similar, equally successful arrangements, particularly the one by Bernard Labadie and his Les Violons du Roy (see reviews archive), featuring a larger instrumental group and Labadie’s own completion of the final quadruple fugue.

Which brings me to my one huge complaint about this release, completely aside from its excellent performances and demonstration-quality sound: nowhere is there any information about where the transcription of the music comes from. Why can’t this simple but important detail be provided in the otherwise first-rate booklet notes? The notes are by the highly respected scholar and keyboard artist John Butt. Is the arrangement his? Who knows? And no amount of searching online reveals the answer. Great recording; outstanding performances; incomplete documentation.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Les Violons du Roy/Labadie (Dorian)


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