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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

The Testament of Bach

  • A Musical Offering BWV 1079
  • The Art of Fugue BWV 1080
Hespèrion XX
Les Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall
AliaVox AV9819A+C 3CDs 143m ADD/DDD
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When one confronts the gigantic mastery of Bach, three works spring up immediately as the ultimate musical challenge, the Mass in B minor, The Art of Fugue and the Musical Offering. AliaVox has issued these final two works in sumptuous digipack form, remastering the old 1986 account of the Art of Fugue alongside a new recording of the Musical Offering.

BWV1079 is more of an intrinsic study of the Canon and Ricercar pieces, a brilliant yet effusive display of the heroism behind such a master's knowledge of counterpoint. Savall's ensemble take the tempi as slow as possible with the maximum effect gained from those ponderous fugues that seem like a shining cathedral all lit up in beauty. There are twenty pieces in the work, culminating in a final ensemble Ricercar that brings together all the previous ideas in one sublime whole, one of the loveliest moments in music. The various instrumentalists lend their own particular shade and colour to each individual movement, thus bringing out the mammoth score's intricate clarity.

And what of Hespèrion XX's 'Art of Fugue'? When this recording was first issued in 1986, there were few competitors, perhaps only Münchinger on Decca from 1969. This reading demonstrated the brilliance of Bach's scoring as each instrumental part was delineated with such clarity that the whole of the work seemed to tower before one like some monumental mountain. It was also one of the longest ever interpretations; spread over two discs each lasting just over 46 minutes. From the very first Contrapunctus on to the sublime Fuga à 3 Soggetti that stops suspended in mid-air, Savall and his team are just exponents of this magnificent work that almost defies description.

Recordings have been refurbished to state of the art standards and the copious notes that accompany each issue are a joy for the inquisitive reader. I cannot recommend this magnificent issue too highly. It is indeed Bach's last will and testament.

Copyright © 2001, Gerald Fenech