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There is no definitive solution to the mysteries surrounding Bach’s contrapuntal masterpiece The Art of Fugue. Ever since his death in 1750, the work has been susceptible to speculation, fantasy, hypothesis, legend and romance; ambiguities have led generations of scholars and performers down a variety of paths towards differing conclusions. Bach leftno specific instrumental requirements for performing The Art of Fugue. It is likely that he conceived it for keyboard but, while this is generally accepted as being Bach’s probable preference, a taste for alternative instrumentation has held its own since Wolfgang Graeser’s large, ‘orchestral’ edition of 1926.

NeoBarock has opted for a string quartet realisation of this profound and expressive work, but it comes at a price which English-speaking audiences may find if not unjustifiable, at least distracting. That price is the insertion between movements of an extended poem, Music of Solitude, read in German by its author Robert Schneider, who has dedicated it to Volker Möller and Maren Ries, the violinists of the quartet. The text is a whimsical ‘melopoem’ inspired by Bach’s music, which progresses in a dream-like sequence of collages embracing Google Earth at one extremity and Bach’s student Johann Christoph Altnickol at another. Notwithstanding some sympathetic playing by NeoBarock, this product is certainly not for me. Everything I could possibly want from The Art of Fugue lies in the work itself, and if ever there existed music calling for contemplation and concentration without distraction or interruption, it is surely this.

Nicholas Anderson Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing