Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
'Die Kunst der Fuge', to give it its German title, was Bach's last, unfinished, great work. In it he takes us into a world of unsurpassed beauty and refinement as he explores the possibilities of fugue and canon. Although no specific instrumentation is indicated in the manuscript, 'The Art Of Fugue' was probably meant for the harpsichord and Davitt Moroney makes a plausible case for this both in his booklet notes and, more importantly, in his playing. He may be wrong but it sounds compelling to me and an earlier release of the recording received high praise on BBC Radio Three. So far as I can see, the album has been issued at least four times with differing artwork so check your own collection before accidentally buying a duplicate. The easiest way of checking is to see if the final, unfinished fugue has been completed by Moroney. The more you look, the more versions you can find and, as a listener, you can pay your money and make your choice. 'The Art Of Fugue' works well on any keyboard and although we know it is unlikely that Bach wrote it for the new-fangled piano he may have had the possibility of it being played on the organ at the back of his mind. Over the years I have enjoyed many and various interpretations of the work, from vocal to swing band, but if we want to get back to the original then the harpsichord should probably be our starting place. Davitt Moroney is an excellent guide and while his approach may be a little cold and calculating for some it enables us to follow Bach's thought process and see the wonderfully logical construction underpinning the composition. Moroney's hypothetical conclusion is fitting and, of course, if you don't like it you can skip it. Any collection of classical music should have a version of 'The Art Of Fugue' but as an instrumental work it is not explicitly Christian so collectors of Christian music may prefer to concentrate on the glory that is Bach's vocal canon.
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