Alice Ader

Bach: Die Kunst der Fuge

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This 2007 live performance of Bach's Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080, by veteran French pianist Alice Ader is one of the more unusual versions of the work to have appeared. What you'll think of it depends on, first, the degree to which you accept the idea of the Art of Fugue as a keyboard work, ably advocated in the booklet by Gilles Cantagrel, and second, your tolerance for old-school Romantic Bach readings. If you check both boxes, it's quite a find. Ader develops a uniquely spacious interpretation, beginning with an extremely slow "Contrapunctus I" that seems to convey the impression of a giant stirring to life. It's the framework laid down by this opening that gives this two-disc release its unusually large dimension. Ader develops the work as a whole rather than as a collection of fugues, choosing sharp texture contrasts between the long-note fugues and the faster pieces, varying the tempo, and adding a good deal of local variation in pace. Everything leads up to the final two pieces, the augmentation canon in contrary motion and the unfinished "Contrapunctus XIV," for which Cantagrel makes the provocative suggestion that perhaps it wasn't really unfinished at all but simply transmitted in an incomplete state. He bases this idea on the speculation that the B-A-C-H motif with which the existing work ends was not a "countersubject" but in fact a full-fledged subject, intended by Bach as a signature and endpoint of the work. Ader doesn't really play it this way; she takes the usual approach of having the music end in mid-thought. But her entire reading is compelling, with fine live recording, and the final track leaves space for a full minute of enthusiastic applause at the end. Highly recommended.

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