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Die Kunst der Fuge › Kölner Violen-Consort (viol quartet)
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Kölner Violen-Consort (viol quartet)

Prezioso 1995; recorded September 1993, Germany.
Menu: printed score without Choral
Total Time: 69:02

Consort music can be a perfect companion for blue moments - draw on sweet night, in darkness let me dwell, and flow my tears. So, if you take a viol quartet playing a work which is all in a minor key and lasts far more than one hour, the pool should be deep enough to get drowned in melancholy.

But after listening to the Kölner Violen-Consort’s interpretation of Bach’s Kunst der Fuge, you’ll be rather refreshed, and even cured - maybe not from depressive tendencies, but from a prejudice as mentioned above: even viols can construct an almost intellectual clarity, which originally is more adequate to DKdF. In fact the quartet’s approach does not differ very much from a “normal” string quartet’s, and is far from viol-typical dark-side-emotionality. Cp.2 comes light-footed, and Cp.11 tells us a compact story with dramatic suspense. The slight sadness of Cp.3 is relieved by a few consoling bars at the end.

Especially at the solo beginnings a well-dosed vibrato reminds more to the instruments of the violin family, but together with the silky sound of the viols. In Cp.14 the bass viol gives us some interesting overtone doublings that no cello would be able to produce in this manner.

A little surprise waits at the end of the unfinished fugue: the tenor part’s last seven notes (to which the KdF-trained listener is used as if it was a composed finale) have been left away, so the piece ends with a little chord that somehow sounds weak and irresolute, and no less sudden than Bach’s fragment. So why?

The only (small) flaw of the recording is its tempo, which is rather fast. A little more patience - or courage? - here and there (e.g. at the fermata before the coda of Cp.1) would have helped for more contrast in dynamics. Another - technical - detail which supports the hurried impression: the silence between the tracks simply is too short; one or two seconds more for each would have done much better.

Good little booklet in German/English/French, showing the first bars of each fugue.

Recommendation: a fine recording; for years it has been the only complete KdF with viol quartet, and even since the release of Fretwork’s version in 2002 (which actually is a sextet), the Cologne consort’s is an unknown, but still remarkable one. Good for tracing parts of the fugues, as well as for late night listenings, and on a very low level even as a company for golden slumbers.

(June 2002)