I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Bach - Art of Fugue - Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin

#alttext# That other Academy of Ancient Music has recorded, for their 25-year anniversary, Bach's best work (my opinion): Die Kunst der Fuge on DVD. Like my reviews? Buy this DVD online via Amazon. I found this review on Amazon somewhat funny,

Why is it played so slowly? The players look like zombies, which may explain the slow playing. I have had my HDTV for seven years now and have had no problems with the color balance until I played this DVD. The players have green faces and green arms. After adjusting the color balance they still look frightful. Besides being green, the players' dress and hairdos look like they are still living in fear of the Stasi and the brutal dictators during the worst days of the DDR. I didn't mind the visuals terribly much, so I have no complaint with hair or dress. But to see Stephan Mai play (and lead) on the violin was interesting. He's a very expressive sitting player, but both his arm and hand position had my curious. Every string teacher I've had tells you not to flatten your hand against the neck, and not to lean your elbow into your side with your left hand... but he does this over and over. I'm curious as to why! I do agree with the review above, I found too many of the movements slow for my taste. But this slower tempo is required when playing this music with a larger ensemble. They employ keyboards on a few pieces, but mostly it's dominated by strings (without continuo). They re-orchestrated the work in a way that includes trombone, oboe d'caccia, oboe, and bassoon. While these folks can play admirably on their own, it's some of their re-orchestrations with strings together that seem rather out of place in Bach's sound world. The typical application works like this: single strings - full orchestra - add the winds - big finish I don't mind color in the piece, and I think a variation with multiple strings is nice. But I go back to efforts before this one that worked well and did not. My favorite recording, by Musica Antiqua Köln has yet to be touched. Concerto Italiano's rendition, where the colors constantly change, as new instruments pick up the same line, or when a flute plays in unison with a single string, was a disaster (despite good playing from the group). AfAMB does a better job, perhaps in orchestration, but it's an experiment at best. This is a recording of a live concert, and because of this, you do get a few audience noises, and intonation on a few notes aren't quite there, but by in large, the recording as DVD is a nice one. The reviewer above (Zarathustra, who called the DVD "Bach for Zombies") preferred the recording by Freiburg Baroque of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos - and they play in tuxes in an empty room. I much prefer the artistic way this DVD was recorded - the cameras get almost uncomfortably close to the musicians, panning across their faces, their instruments, and the pages of the scores. It's something you couldn't do in the audience (get so close), and the only drawback is that the recorded sound doesn't follow the perspective of the camera (it's a very nice recording with good stereo separation). This recording for me won't be my favorite of Bach's Art of Fugue. The DVD was a nice introduction to the ensemble's players, and it offers a concert experience with visuals that supersede attending a real concert. I find myself now recording the tracks to audio-only so I can enjoy BWV 1080 on the go, or in the car. While the string players occasionally miss perfect intonation here and there, I like the authenticity of publishing a live recording without doctoring things. In the grand scheme of the recordings I have enjoyed, this is somewhere in the middle. On some pieces, the "arrangements" are well done and well-played. Others, leaving me for faster tempi (especially those on keyboard (positiv organ and harpsichord), or more plausible orchestration. Ultimately for me this music is very emotion-raising, and ought to have a little more gravitas towards the playing. For me this isn't weight, but rather a more "romantic" reading. There's no doubt, however, that these musicians have reverence for Bach. Their reading of "Canon XVII" to me is superbly well-done, and I only wish that energy and approach had been taken on more of the tracks!

Bach Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord

Scarlatti Motets