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Die Kunst der Fuge › Hespèrion XX
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Hespèrion XX

Hespèrion XX, dir. by Jordi Savall (viol quartet & wind quartet)
Astrée 1986 (and 2002); recorded March 1986, Roquemaure.
Menu: printed score with Choral
Total Time: 92:05

Eight gentlemen are celebrating one of the finest works of occidental music.
Here’s a list of the excellent soloists and their (of course authentic) instruments:

Jordi Savall, treble viol, arrangement & direction
Christophe Coin, alto viol
Robert Gini, tenor viol
Paolo Pandolfo, bass viol
Bruce Dickey, cornet
Paolo Grazzi, oboe da caccia
Charles Toet, trombone
Claude Wassmer, bassoon
(Most of them have launched their own solo career since…)

Needless to say that their playing is on the highest artistic level, though never academic or virtuoso, but simply adequate to the composer’s genius, with an audible respect, dignity and, of course, musicality.

In this conception, the whole thing has been divided in two halves, each on one of the double CD set, and each containing an almost equal set of movements in dynamics and instrumentation. So the listener is free to have only one CD in one session “without loss”; both together will form the complete corpus as intended by Bach (?).

Some of the wind movements, and especially those Contrapuncti that start with strings and softly are taken over by the wind instruments - like Cp.5 and he final section of Cp.2 - are strongly reminding of the haunting seriousness of Masonic ceremonies - or at least of the music that has been written for these occasions, like Mozart’s Maurerische Trauermusik, or some of his chamber music with basset horns. The highlight in beauty is Cp.9, rhythmically well accentuated by the viols, but the quotations of the original theme are coming from solo wind instruments, like choral insertions… and once more evoking sacred reminiscences: to certain arias in Bach’s passions where in special moments the soloist is accompanied by a memorial choral theme, or to the sotto-voce brass parts in Mahler´s Resurrection Symphony. At last, when the wind instruments are beginning to celebrate the final fuge, it could make you tremble with fear and awe…

Fine booklet in French/English/German with deep insights from Jordi Savall and Hans Eppstein.

The splendid AAD recording has been digitally remastered (why?) in 2002 and re-released in a slim digipack. This new edition is also available mid-priced together with Jordi Savall’s exciting version of Bach’s Musikalisches Opfer in a 3 CD-box under the (speculative) title The Testament of Bach.

Recommendation: in any sense. The general impression, that almost everything (sometimes even a second-rated work) turns to gold when treated by Jordi Savall & his musicians, is confirmed by this recording of Die Kunst der Fuge: simply a masterwork.

(December 2002)