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Die Kunst der Fuge › Wiener Saxophon-Quartett
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Wiener Saxophon-Quartett

(Vienna Saxophone Quartet)
PG Records, Austria, 2001.
Menu: printed score without Choral
Total Time: 59:37

It is an astonishing, but historical fact that W. A. Mozart didn’t know much about J. S. Bach’s music before 1782, and whenever he or any of his contemporaries mentioned Bach, they meant Carl Phillip Emanuel or Johann Christian rather than their father Johann Sebastian, whose works still had to wait for being re-discovered for quite a long time. It was Mozart’s (and many other musician’s) friend Gottfried van Swieten, who owned scores by J.S.B., and invited him to play them at the famous soirées that he used to hold in his house in Vienna. Mozart arranged several pieces of the Well Tempered Clavier etc. for string trio and quartet, some with own Préludes. (And, according to a letter from Mozart’s wife Constanze, it was her who begged him to try and write own fugues, because she was so fond of it…) We have only one string trio version of Contrapunctus 8 from DKdF by Mozart, though maybe he arranged more of these fugues for van Swieten’s Hausmusik. But what nobody knew before: there is an absolutely Mozartean Divertimento, a great light music for winds, which is solely based on Bach’s DKdF! Here we are:

Vienna Saxophone Quartet plays Die Kunst der Fuge - and you can forget that the whole work is written in a minor key. Throughout driven by a most joyful, fresh impulse, we are listening to dancing rhythms, tunes that are sung out of a happy heart, and intelligent stories that are told in a quite amusing way. Warmly tuned, highly cultivated tone. The recording sound gives the illusion of a rather small chamber, rather a Hausmusik than an open air Feldparthie - ideal to be played on our home equipments, with some percussive effects of the sax valves. This version is, as far as I know, the shortest complete recording of the printed score - but it is far from being the fastest one. Mostly allegro con brio, each Contrapunctus presents at the ending a little treasure: a long, golden accord full of a warm-hearted swinging ensemble breath.

Recommendation: in any sense; and for beginning a busy day; for all who don’t know too much (or nothing at all) about DKdF; for a new approach to baroque (?) music; etc.

P.S. Before the quartet released the record, they used to offer another one via Internet, a live recording from December 1999 - also fine, but still a step on the way to the organic perfectness of the present one. (Especially the Canons show a good example that a fast tempo bears the danger of speed that might be simply too high, maybe even more in a concert situation.) But there’s another surprise on this live record, not included on the studio version: after the end of the unfinished fugue we hear a 4-sax arrangement of the famous Air from the Orchestersuite BWV 1068. What looks, at the first glimpse, like a cheap gesture towards popularity, in this context sounds completely organic, almost as if it had been written for this purpose, and the audience is given a goodbye that fits as well as the so-called deathbed chorale - and certainly much more optimistic. Thanks for this idea!

Thomas Radleff, February 2002