Zhu Xiao-Mei

Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge

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Chinese-French pianist Zhu Xiao-Mei is something of a Bach specialist, and her wonderful recording of Bach's swan song, Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080 (The Art of the Fugue, not "the art of fugue" as it is translated here), is something of a summation of her work in the field. Zhu has few competitors nowadays in fully pianistic, Steinway grand interpretations, and her reading can stand comparison with the great piano versions of the past. She balances on the knife edge, making use of the full capabilities of the piano but not taking Bach a step out of his era. Zhu carefully builds up the work's macro structure, emphasizing the step-by-step development of the work's basic fugal material with piano articulation. As the great set of fugues proceeds, she introduces more expressive shading and complexity, in parallel with the mind-boggling developments in the music itself, and the final quadruple fugue, breaking off at the point of Bach's death, seems almost to break on through to the other side. The recording was made at Bach's own workplace: Leipzig's Thomaskirche. This is perhaps not where such a chamber work would have originally been performed, but the location adds an indefinable layer to the performance, perhaps one associated with the player's own reaction to the space. This is a recording that will continue to be richly rewarding over many hearings.

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