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Die Kunst der Fuge › Anton Batagov
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Anton Batagov

Anton Batagov
SoLyd Records (Yekaterinburg) 1993; mono recording, Jan/Feb 1993, Russia
Menu: printed score without Choral
Total Time 147:44

Among pizza lovers of all countries, it is an agreed fact that the best pizzeria in the world is Da Michele’s in Naples, Italy. Every day it is visited by hundreds if people from all over the world, and you have to queue for a while until you get inside. (Once you’ve conquered a seat, your appetite must have reached an unbearable level.) They don’t have a menu in this place. The only thing you can order is Pizza Margherita, which is a simple soil of dough, topped with mashed tomatoes and cheese, and that’s it. Nothing else, not even oregano. (If you’re thirsty, you can get water, beer or coca-cola.)

Of course Bach’s Kunst der Fuge is something else than pizza dough. But are we able to imagine a pizza without any spices, or additional toppings, without all the pizzaiolo’s creativity? And are we able not only to like it, but claim that this is The Pizza, The Pure, The Original One, The One & Only? Certainly we cannot - unless we tried it. In the late 19th century, the Upper Austrian author & gourmet Adalbert Stifter remarked that “describing music is like narrating a meal” - almost impossible, maybe mouthwatering, but never satisfying.

Anton Batagov’s interpretation is probably the only one which is very easy to describe:
- throughout played at one very slow tempo; absolutely no tempo alterations.
- throughout played at a very low level; absolutely no dynamic alterations. Mono.
- throughout played with pedal, except for a handful of notes (mostly the first few bars) in each movement which are played staccato with a dry damp.
…and that’s it.

The longest AoF recordings normally are executed on a great organ or by a grand orchestra, and take some 110′ with choral. Batagov does not include this one in his piano recording, which lasts 147′44”. Two CDs, no booklet. Just a folded inlay with tracks & timings, one photo, and a hand-scribbled dedication: To the memory of my father.

Antarctic, ardent, arrogant, attractive, boring, clear, cosmic, deserted, enduring, esoteric, frozen, heavyweight, heretic, hypertrophic, hypnotic, illuminating, impersonal, ingenious, insane, intelligent, katatonic, lazy, lightweight, maniac, marathon, mechanical, meditative, mesmerizing, modest, obsessive, original, persevering, precise, provocative, pure, reduced, respectful, respectless, sick, simple, soporific, straight, transcendent, unbearable, waste, zen.

Which of these adjectives could be applied to other KdF recordings? A lot of them.
Is there any other recording to which ALL of them could be applied as well? No.

Comparisons:
James Joyce’s Ulysses, last chapter: Molly Bloom’s inner monologue.
Paintings by Mark Rothko.
A railroad track from one shore of a continent to another.

Recommendation: Yes.
(Warning: this recording might serve as a mirror for your entire attitude towards music.)

The artist’s extensive homepage at: http://www.batagov.com:8100/index_e.htm

(Thomas Radleff, February 2003)