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Bach: Fugues, Arranged for String Quartet

4.2 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Audio CD, March 25, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Following its most successful recording, The Art of Fugue, the Emerson String Quartet again dedicates its mastery to the music of J.S. Bach. The quartet, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2007, presents the world-premiere recording of the four-part fugues from the famous Well-Tempered Clavier as arranged for string quartet. The Emerson Quartet's 2003 release of The Art of Fugue was a critical and commercial success selling 50,000 units worldwide. Repertoire from this world-premiere recording will be included in the Emerson Quartet's touring program. Emerson String Quartets members are Eugene Drucker, 1st violin/2nd violin/2nd viola (5-voice fugues), Philip Setzer, 2nd violin/1st violin, Lawrence Dutton, viola/1st viola (5-voice fugues) and David Finckel,cello. 21 tracks.

Review

"...an extraordinary fusion of experience and authority with audacity and freshness." -- The Boston Globe

"...technically resourceful, musically insightful, cohesive, full of character and always interesting." -- The New York Times

"In The Art of Fugue, the Emerson String Quartet left an overall impression of intelligence and beauty. It is hard to go higher." -- New York Sun
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Product Details

  • Performer: Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, Lawrence Dutton, David Finckel
  • Orchestra: Emerson String Quartet
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Audio CD (March 25, 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B0011WMWV6
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,735 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. H. M. Remme on July 16, 2008
Format: Audio CD
To understand and appreciate Bach means to be fascinated by the art form of the fugue, Bach's most important tool in giving us the wonderful compositions we know from him. A fugue is both a mathematical equation and an exploration into the unknown. Thus, it is never boring, least of all in the way in which Back used it.
The fugues performed by the Emerson String Quartet were originally written for the harpsichord, under the name Das Wohltemperierte Clavier (The Well-tuned Piano). Although some purists frown at such re-arranging, as they did when Glenn Gould played Bach on a Steinway instead of on a harpsichord, it can be defended by pointing out that Bach himself re-used many of his compositions in other works and for other instruments. But probably the best defense is the utter beauty and thrilling experience that is the result, as is apparent from the recording by the Emerson String Quartet.
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J.S. Bach is, hands down, my all-time favorite composer. The Well-Tempered Clavier is one of my favorite works by Bach. (I have 5 different versions on piano.) The Emerson Quartet are excellent artists. But, as much as this disk belongs in the collection of every Bach lover, I can't give this recording five stars.

At first glance, this project has everything to recommend it. A fugue is a compositional technique that involves the introduction of a melody, and the repetition of the melody in a different 'voice' (say in the bass, rather than in the alto). When this melody, called 'the subject,' recurs it is accompanied by another distinct melody (the 'countersubject'). This process plays out until you have as many anywhere from 2 to 6 to 8, or whatever, distinct melodies playing at the same time. Now, Bach wrote these fugues for a keyboard (clavier). As a listener, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to follow all of the melodies (voices) at the same time in a keyboard performance since the separate voices of melody 'present' as harmony, that is, as the vertical organization of notes. That was Bach's point after all, that superimposed melodies can created harmony and harmonic movement (tension and resolution). So a string quartet performance has the huge advantage of giving each voice (of a 4 voice fugue) to a separate instrument and performer. This performer can shape the melody and alter its dynamics throughout the phrase in a way which not only fits in with the other players but which can be appreciated for itself. In short, you can follow every voice and thereby begin to appreciate Bach's fugues in the way that can otherwise come only through playing these pieces yourself. Thank you Emerson Quartet!
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I really enjoy the interplay between players. These performances facilely brings out WTC's inner structure and makes these interactions three-dimensional. Unlike the Art of Fugue, one can enjoy to hear a variety of subjects and countersubjects. (I understand the Art of Fugue used permutations of a single subject!)

I would have given this recording 5 stars if if weren't for an aural sameness throughout. I understand this sometimes happens when arranging for string instruments, but clearly, I would have liked more dynamics and shading at the performance level. Otherwise, highly recommended.

PS: The present recording features 21 fugues of the famous "48". Perhaps the Emerson would commission the arrangements for the remaining (27) fugues for a future recording...and what about arranging the (48) preludes for string quartet? (Now THAT would be a more of a challenge to pull off!)

My two cents.
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By Apologues on September 13, 2012
Format: Audio CD
It is interesting that several of the five- and four-star reviews have nonetheless called attention to the serious faults of this recording: that it suffers from aural sameness and lacks intensity. Tempos are relentless, not just almost invariably too fast, but also unalleviated by any rubato or breathing whatsoever. Characterization is completely missing. With four instruments capable of some degree of differentiation, the players give us readings that are more monochromatic than any keyboard recordings. This is not smoothness of ensemble--this is failure to deliver the contrapuntal texture. These amazing pieces that should dance, sing, and in the most profound movements take us into a meditative trance instead sound all the same, like each is a read-through set to the metronome. Two of the very greatest fugues, from Book II, in C minor and D major, are sped through at a ludicrous pace, and what should be contemplative sounds like a hurdy-gurdy. The 30-second samples are enough to confirm how dismal these two interpretations are. This is soulless music, and that's the worst that can happen to Bach.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful transcription of many of Bach's fugues for the keyboard that clearly delineate the several parts in counterpoint, beautifully phrased and played by the masterful Emerson Quartet. The music itself never fatigues and rewards repeated listening--it is so good to be able to hear this music that is so rarely performed in the concert hall.
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