Bach: Art of Fugue

J.S. Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge
Davitt Moroney
Harmonia Mundi 901169/70 (2 CDs)

As should not surprise regular readers, I easily prefer harpsichord performances of this set. While other arrangements can be enjoyable, they simply cannot match the harpsichord for overall depth and idiomatic detail.

The work itself is clearly one of Bach's top creations. Many aspects are highly interesting. Overall, I cannot say that I have found it totally engrossing over the years, but I do come back to it fairly regularly.

When it comes to this performance, many of the same comments apply as in Moroney's WTC set. In short, this is easily my favorite, and I look forward to more polished renditions from Moroney -- someone who has a real instinctive knack for phrasing. In many ways (largely due to the fewer themes), this performance is already more polished that the WTC.

A few words must be said about the completion of the 14th fugue. It's nice to hear the completion... the four-subject stretto is clearly the climax, and I feel a sort of need to hear it stated. As for the merits of Moroney's completion, I cannot say it shows any particular aesthetic vision. However, it satisfies the contraints of the known facts regarding Bach's intentions in a straight-forward and believable way. The number of bars allotted to the completion (via Bach's plans for the manuscript), and the need to state two strettos leaves only a very few bars of transition. While Moroney's writing might be unimaginative, it doesn't get in the way, and that's a clear win.

Another aspect of this performance which goes unnoticed is the fact that Moroney plays Bach's one keyboard arrangements of the mirror fugues. I find these fully satisfying, and have to wonder sometimes why others bother with the second keyboard for just a few notes.

All in all, this is an intelligent and articulate performance without any gimicks. Given the mystique of the work, that's saying more than it might seem.

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Todd M. McComb