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Bach: The Art of Fugue arr. Robert Simpson Import

4.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Import, October 10, 2000
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Editorial Reviews

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Bach was still writing The Art of Fugue at the time of his death. The work was intended to explore the possibilities of counterpoint, but Bach never wrote dry, academic music. It served its didactic purpose, but always there is warm humanity bursting from it. The Art of Fugue has been arranged for many musical groupings, and is always at best a guess at what Bach had in mind. What Robert Simpson has done here is to transpose the work so that it is playable by a string quartet. He does so without apology--Bach himself was a great transposer--and the results are totally convincing. Simpson knows a thing or two about string quartets (his own are well worth checking out), and he has breathed life into a work that is given a terrific performance here by the Delmé Quartet. To some, Bach's contrapuntal writing is a bit like a musical sewing machine, but when it is given with a true sense of ebb and flow, as it is here, it is magnificent. There are extensive liner notes, but you don't need to be a student of counterpoint to get a lift from this music on a pure sit-back-and-enjoy basis. --Keith Clarke

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus I
  2. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus II
  3. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus III
  4. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus IV
  5. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus V
  6. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus VI ('In Stylo Francese')
  7. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus VII (Per Augmentationem Et Diminutionem)
  8. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus VIII
  9. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus IX (Alla Duodecima)
  10. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus X (Alla Decima)
  11. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus XI
  12. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus XII (Rectus)
  13. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus XII (Inversus)
  14. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus XIII (Rectus)
  15. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus XIII (Inversus)
  16. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus XIV
  17. The Art Of Fugue, BWV 1080: Contrapunctus XIV


Product Details

  • Performer: The Delme Quartet
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach, Robert Simpson
  • Audio CD (October 10, 2000)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Import
  • Label: Hyperion UK
  • ASIN: B00004WMWO
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,424 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Bach's "Art of the Fugue," forgotten after his death and rediscovered only in the nineteenth century, has exerted a powerful fascination on twentieth century composers; indeed, arranging Bach's score-without-instrumentation for greater or lesser forces has constituted a musical cottage-industry, with realizations for chamber orchestra, mixed endemble, brass ensemble, string quartet, and even saxophone quartet appearing in the catalogues and on record. In fairly recent times, the Juilliard String Quartet and the Keller Quartet have committed their renditions to compact disc (Sony and EMC respectively). Along comes yet another string quartet version of "The Art," this time as arranged by the late Robert Simpson (1921-1996) for performance by the Delmé Quartet. Simpson's thoughts about "The Art" deserve close attention, closer perhaps than others, because, as a composer himself of symphonies and string quartets he has shown himself to have deeply assimilated Bach's contrapuntal ethos. Two of Simpson's masterpieces, the Ninth Symphony (1987) and the Ninth String Quartet (1982), exploit the full compass of Bachian polyphonic science, the Quartet in particular constituting all by itself Simpson's very own "ars combinandi tema contra tema." (It consists of thirty-two palindromic variations and a palindromic fugue on a palindromic theme taken from Haydn!) But it would be hard to find a Simpson score, especially among the fifteen string quartets, that did not rigorously exploit fugal and canonic possibilities. In a sense then, in setting his hand to Bach's uninstrumented masterpiece, Simpson simply gives back what he has already taken and internalized and exploited.Read more ›
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I am familiar with the Julliard Qt. performance and recently bought the Emerson Qt. CD on Deutsche Grammofon -- which I quite like -- but now that I have the Delme Qt. recording I realize that the Emersons are, as one reviewer put it, too romantic. This performance by the Delme Qt. is so elegant and carefully constructed that one is constanly aware of the "long line" (which I confess I had forgot about with the Emersons because they are so much more emotional, although the Delme play with great feeling). The Delme recording is simply more beautiful.
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It must be a great pity for many that Bach didn't complete the last contrapunctus XIV, although some may argue that the incomplete piece is quite complete in its own way. I still feel the abrupt stop of the final very sad and like having a sweet dream but suddenly being waked, the dream scene is still vivid but no closure can be found. At least that is the case when I listened to Emerson's rendition.

Here, Delme Qt presents the complete final provided by Donald Tovey and adds the incomplete fragment as encore. I find Tovey's effort is worthwhile, although without doubt that Bach himself would have surely amazed us if only he could have finished it. The coherence of Tovey's work is so great that I haven't noticed the transit from Bach to Tovey at my first hearing.

Delme's is in a fierce competition. Emerson's performance getting full stars at Amazon clearly has its reason: bright recording and energetic music making. If I put Emerson's version as Yang, then Delme's is the Yin equivalent. Delme's touch is rather soft or tending to be soft. Also, "wo ist der Verfasser gestorben" is smoothed in Delme's and leaves kinda an echo around my ear.

It is not appropriate and not even necessary to decide which of the quartet version takes the upper notch. Just enjoy them both if you have the chance as I do: I put them both in my iphone.
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