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Die Kunst der Fuge › Calefax Reed Quintet
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Calefax Reed Quintet

MDG 2000; recorded January 2000, Germany.
Menu: printed score with Choral.
Total Time: 76:54

The Dutch quintet plays DKdF in the saxophonist’s Raaf Hekkema’s arrangement for ten different reed instruments: oboe, oboe d’amore, english horn, saxophones, clarinets, basset horn and bassoon.

Amazing enough, this recording on modern reed instruments sounds more “baroque” (and sometimes “renaissancy”) than many others, regarding the tone of certain instruments - oboe d’amore, bassoon etc. The Canon alla Decima, e.g., with basset horn and… well, I’d bet the best discs of my collection that this is not a soprano sax playing, but a cornet! And more reminiscences - in Cp.12: a trombone! - Cp.13: a trumpet! (Compare it with the wind sections of Jordi Savall’s recording…)

But even the manner of their ensemble playing achieves a fresh consort-like impression. Here we have not another essay of as-if-it-could-have-been-in-the-baroque-period, but certainly a solid concert performed by historically inspired musicians as-it-is-nowadays, collecting the best traditions of musical research and performing. Stunningly perfect intonation, clarity without any strength, and a twinkle here and there.

In the booklet essay “Bach rid of his wig” the bassoon player Alban Wesly informs in a very open-minded way about the transcription for reeds. Concerning the question if the Choral is actually part of Bach’s conception, he simply states “We will leave it up to you to decide whether or not you want to hear this last track.” And further on: “Still, nobody should be surprised that this “art” has a magical sound to it because everything that a genius like Bach touched turned to gold.” An audibly fine symbiosis of modern skill with respect towards historic traditions.

In this sense, the remarkable cover artwork by Pascal Möhlmann is more than a joke; rather a program. It shows a very normal elder man at home, and obviously a composer at work: J. S. Bach himself, bearing the same facial expression as on Hausmann’s portrait, but without wig and collar, holding a bundle of notes and a ball pen writer. Golden threads on a black background represent the painting’s title: Contrapunctus XIV.

Recommendation: Satisfaction guaranteed for many a different musical taste.

(May 2002)