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Die Kunst der Fuge › Phantasm (Viol Quartet)
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Phantasm (Viol Quartet)

Simax 1998; recorded August 1997, England
Menu: only Cp.1 - 11 and the incomplete fugue;
+ Mozart/Bach fugues K.405 + Mozart’s fugue K.401
Total Time: 65:25 all inclusive

A fresh & young recording with old instruments, and an exciting menu.

The sensitive recording technique managed to solve a paradoxon: full, sweet, velvety sounding as well as clearly distinguished parts; transparency as well as voluminous viols’ voices. Rich spectre of overtones with some flute echoes from somewhere…

Compared with a classical string quartet, the viol quartet appears more discrete, due to a smaller dynamic range of the instruments. But Phantasm’s interpretation shows enough fine dynamic changes by a somehow harpsichord-like articulation (compared with a piano) so that there is not a single inattentive moment. In Cp.4, for example, the soprano part seems to be accompanied by changing parts, though all of them are audible all the time. By some smart conception the quartet creates a lot of little miracles. And the finale of Cp.11 simply is very, very beautiful; something to die for, or to be resurrected again.

In 1782 W. A. Mozart arranged 5 four-part-fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier II for string quartet. Phantasm combines their selection of DKdF with these five arrangements and ends with a version of the fugue K.401 which Mozart wrote some ten years before, for organ with pedal. Though we cannot listen to the whole KdF, the concept of the disc “works” - never straining nor boring, and the final Mozart fugue certainly is a more convenient finale than Bach’s fragment or the Choral. (If it is irony of fate, or just a witty choice: Mozart’s fugue also is a fragment. The last bars have been completed by Abbé Maximilian Stadler.) All in all, a good, innovative CD version; in their concert repertoire the quartet plays the complete KdF, mixed with Mozart’s works.

Nevertheless: we would like to hear the rest of DKdF played by Phantasm, and we are curiously waiting for their ideas of combining the remaining contrapuncti with…?

Intelligent and detailed booklet essay (in English) from the musicologist, viol player and founder of Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus.

Recommendation: in any sense. A must for lovers of good sound recordings, viols, musical humour in combination with skill & sensibility. And even KdF-addicts will be convinced by this non-complete recording.

(June 2002)