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Die Kunst der Fuge › József Eötvös (two 8-string guitars)
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József Eötvös (two 8-string guitars)

private label; recorded 2002 in Budapest
Menu: printed score without Choral, + 2nd version of Cp.13
(CD Extra: scores and 1st voices of Cp.3 + 4, Canon alla Ottava, + per Augm.)
TotalTiming: 88:11

Some records work better when enjoyed with headphones, while others unfold their qualities only when played on a good hi-fi equipment. Sometimes it’s even better to have the music coming from the neighbour room, like the Count of Keyserlingk might have listened to young Goldberg playing during the Count’s sleepless nights.
József Eötvös’ strange KdF recording works best on my small portable CD player in the kitchen. The soundspace fits exactly, and somehow the whole edition appears to be small and homemade, una musica domestica.

Nevertheless, the recording offers a wide range of guitar-specific possibilities. We can listen to the tiny steps of two mice running through the kitchen, a funny choreography along with the Canon alla Ottava in which all notes are damped. Cp.6 in Stylo Francese shows us an unusual romantic construction, climbing the heights of a dramatically ritardando climax. Rich contrasts also in Cp.11. Fine, subtle gentleness in the Canon per Augmentationem. Actually, in this recording all the Canons feel better than most the 3- and 4-part fugues.
Last Fugue, second theme, enter of the soprano- what a shock: these can’t be steel strings!? Or is it a dobro guitar? Or a banjo? Sounds awful…

Eötvös’ 1997 recording of his own arrangement of the Goldberg Variations is a masterpiece in virtuosity. Though this one is, all in all, satisfying, I can’t get rid of the impression that one of the artist’s principal claims is, to give us a sample of his virtuosity. Since I know his recording of DKdF, I am wondering if I would have perceived, without having read the liner notes, that there is only one person playing. - As a matter of fact, it does sound exactly as if there was only one person playing, especially in the dense textures like in the alternative versions a 2 Clav. of Cp.13.

The additional material on CD 2 contains the partitures and 1st parts from Cp.3 + 4 and two Canons. The title of this CD Extra - “József Eötvös: Play duet with me!” - sounds like a cry de profundis from a longtime-prisoner in the loneliness of his cell, or from a child that has been left alone in a crowd. Why did Eötvös record Die Kunst der Fuge by solipsistic double tracking? Are there so few guitarists on earth that he could collaborate with?
His pioneer work of new arrangement aside - the recording definitely would have gained much more life and vividness by a guitarist duo, and let’s hope such a version will be prepared as soon as possible.

Recommendation: well, not bad; not bad at all. Finally, we have a complete guitaristic recording of The Art of Fugue - maybe the first, probably not the last, and certainly not the very best.
Since the disc might be rare in normal stores, it can be ordered here:

(October 2003)