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3 May 2017

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Richard Troeger, 'Bach, The Art of Fugue'; Lyrichord, LEMS 8048;
Reviewed by Bridget Cunningham

The first disc contains the contrapunctus from the Art of Fugue (BWV 1080). This was Bach's last major keyboard work and according to watermark studies and handwriting, he started it around 1742 and completed it in 1746. Therefore the start of this probably links in with the period of the Well Tempered Clavier, Part II (c 1739-42) and the Goldberg Variations (1741). These two major keyboard works may have sparked an idea to use three main ideas together -- fugue, canon and variation-- in a new and fresh approach. The Art of Fugue is a series of contrapuntal variations upon a single theme, played rectus and inversus, based on a fugue or canon as its main form. It has been described by C. P. E. Bach as being “the most perfect practical fugal work” where “everything.... has been arranged for use at the harpsichord or organ,” although the open score notation does not specify an instrument. The theme of the Musical Offering (1747) is like an expanded elaboration of the main theme of the Art of Fugue, which was underway for publication at this time.

Richard Troeger's approach to The Art of Fugue on the clavichord is unique and a real treat for the listener. Each contrapunctus is played clearly and expressively and the theme is distinctly stated each time with clear articulation; over all they work beautifully on the clavichord. As they continue step by step to become more complicated, and multiple forms of variation occur at the same time, Troeger still elegantly brings out the theme clearly and masters these effectively, musically and sensitively. The counter-fugues (contrapuncta 5 -7) form a distinct group and are performed with much clarity. The lightness and dance-like quality of the “Stylo Francese” has a lot of direction and shape and is particularly effective. The double and triple fugues (contra 8 – 11) are all equally well poised and characteristic with great dialogue between the parts. 12a-b and 13a-b are skillfully presented with Paulette Grundeen playing as well. Troeger's completion of the Unfinished Fugue (No. 14) shows his mastery of this music as scholar and performer and is highly effective.

The second disc is a wonderful selection with lots of highlights starting with four canons from the Art of Fugue (2 Ottava, 3 Decima, 4 Duodecima and 1 per Augmentation in Contrario Motu), which grow increasingly more complex. Again, all work extremely well and are articulated clearly, with light and shade between phrases. The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue (BWV 903) works fantastically well and has been recorded several times before on the clavichord, which naturally lends itself to showing the emotions of the recitative sections. The keyboard versions of the Sonata in D Minor and the Adagio in G survive in a copy by Bach's pupil, Johann Christoph Altnikol, so it is unclear whether these arrangements were made by Bach or Altnikol. They could possibly have been by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, CPE Bach or Muthel. Firstly the arrangement of the Adagio in G (BWV 968), from the violin sonata in C, which has a rich sonorous, pulsating bass, works extremely well on the clavichord in this recording. Then there is an arrangement of the violin sonata in A Minor, which is taken from the Sonata in D minor (BWV 964) and this again works brilliantly. The Adagio has a great sense of line and the lively Allegro theme is followed by the stunningly played Andante, which has a wonderful vocal quality about it. The last movement, the Allegro, has a good speed and mood.


The Partita in E (BWV 1006a) is performed with colourful dance movements and again good speeds and articulation. The Praeludium is played lightly and lyrically, followed by the stylish Loure, and the Gavotte en Rondeau. The bourée has a fantastic and punchy bass followed by the lively gigue. The final piece is the Fantasia in A minor (BWV 922), in which Troeger displays a whirlwind of colours, as the music ripples along at a good pace. The variety of speed in spread chords is good and the dynamic contrasts work well. --- A strong and triumphant piece to end the CD leaving you wanting more.

This recording is fantastic and a must for lovers of the clavichord and J S Bach. Troeger makes excellent use of the clavichord, playing Bach's extremely complex music sensitively, with a fantastic ability to create light and shade in the music and good dialogue between the parts. The recording quality is excellent and the clavichord has a beautiful sound. The clavichord used was built by Ronald Hass and is modelled on originals by Johann Heinrich Silbermann. The second clavichord used for no.12a - b is by Lyndon Taylor and is based on an instrument in Markneukirchen now attributed to Gottfried Silbermann. The CD notes are very informative and include sections on the order of movements, choice of instrument, an analysis of the Art of Fugue and much more. Over all two very enjoyable CDs.