Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV1080
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 17 February, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Pierre-Laurent Aimard here took a ‘break’ from his Messiaen-centenary exertions at the Southbank Centre. That he has such a wide repertoire and is able to carry it off so assuredly is quite remarkable. This Bach recital offered superb pianism with committed and convincing playing throughout.
Misha Donat, in the programme note, went into great detail explaining the order in which Aimard would play the 14 Fugues and the four Canons. Ideas about symmetry and progression, all of which seemed coherent, were passed-over by Aimard who played them in a completely different order and also different from his Deutsche Grammophon. The Art of Fugue is incomplete and not indicative of either order or scoring. The version published in 1751 (a year after Bach’s death) has the various movements arranged in roughly increasing order of sophistication but such an arrangement is often changed.
Aimard’s technique is staggering; these are not easy pieces to play. His imagination with them, too, presents the listener with a journey. What Aimard brings to the music makes one wonder at Bach’s genius and the pianist’s ability to bring it off. Beginning with ‘Contrapunctus I-IV was a sensible option. They are ‘simple’ but allowed Aimard to lay his stall out, presenting each without superfluous embellishment. Magical music-making in ‘Contrapunctus III’ was followed by a sprightly account of the Fourth. The French-style Sixth exemplified Aimard’s extraordinary grip between hands, offering extended lyricism. The second of the two ‘Mirror Fugues’ (XIII) came after ‘Contrapunctus VII’. To separate the reflection was a good idea, as the simple invention found in the filler were in perfect support to melting episodes that Aimard explored in the ‘Inversus’; his right-hand quite inspired and the sudden close bringing frisson.‘Contrapunctus V’ stands well on its own, and was here epic in nature, its many stretto entries well variegated. Aimard found great expression in the first ‘Double Fugue’ (IX), which led to ‘Contrapunctus X’, Aimard fully in command of music and instrument.
The four ‘Canons’ began the second half of the recital, the ‘Canon per Augmentationem in Contrario Motu’ was hypnotic with its deceptively uncomplicated phrases. ‘Contrapunctus XIV (fuga a 3 Soggetti)’ is the final Fugue and gave Aimard the opportunity for some defiant left-hand playing, though its sudden, inconclusive end (Bach died!) only serves to suggest what might have been.
Aimard then separated ‘Contrapunctus XII’ (the first ‘Mirror Fugue’) with ‘VIII’ before closing with ‘Contrapunctus XI’. The effort in playing this was evident and made compulsive listening, Aimard rendering the opening rich textures in muscular fashion. It takes a musician of great distinction to bring out the subtleties of this music. Aimard’s account was a privilege to hear.