J.S. Bach: Art of Fugue


BBC Radio 3 – Building a Library Overall Choice (2007)

Recording Date: August 1997
Recording Location: St Bartholomew's Church, Orford (Suffolk)
Producer: Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Balance Engineer: Arne Akselberg
Post-Production: Jonathan Freeman-Attwood and Laurence Dreyfus
Editing: Arne Akselberg


...a commanding new recording of Bach's "Art of Fugue". To say that Phantasm (whose members, in addition to Laurence Dreyfus, are Wendy Gillespie, Jonathan Manson and Markku Luolajan-Mikkola) avoids the "Where's Waldo?" trap is like saying that Mikhail Baryshnikov avoids the clumsiness trap. The group's refined sense of contrapuntal balance is most evident in spots where Bach intentionally hides the first note of the main subject when it is played in the middle of a fugue. Many performers spotlight the otherwise hidden entry by accenting the first note to make it stand out from everything going on around it. Phantasm instead lets the entry emerge naturally out of the texture and surprise us once we recognize it.... Phantasm communicates more than just the subtleties of contrapuntal technique. As Dreyfus emphasizes, "The Art of Fugue" is full of emotion and also of "fascinating commentary" on the musical world in which Bach lived. Phantasm catches the allusions when Bach refers to various Baroque styles, like a sacred choral motet, a French overture or a gigue. These allusions raise another quandary of transplanting old music to modern contexts: do the period references mean anything to the nonspecialist modern listener? Phantasm shows how they might. The allusions help define the music's emotional character.... Phantasm's recording, while on historically "wrong" instruments, will not become outmoded. It conveys too much of the musical accomplishment, the mystery and the humanity of "The Art of Fugue." Like other outstanding Bach performers before it, Phantasm reminds us that anachronism can have its uses.

Bernard D. Sherman, Apr 1999 - published in The New York Times

This is a recording which should arouse special interest. It coheres with the choice of movements and with the group's ability to articulate and pinpoint the themes with elegantly chosen phrasing. The four members with the American Laurence Dreyfus all live in different parts of Europe and the United States but when they come together to make music, they are well worth hearing. That the Norwegian company Simax issues everything that they produce is no small coup and has already resulted in a prize from the magazine Gramophone. This recording, too, should also not come very far from taking a top prize. Their reading of the Art of Fugue is a harmonic treat thanks to the consort's exquisite intonation. For those who are excited by the rhythms of the Baroque, it can be said that this recording swings with the most ravishing nuances. It is music that attaches itself to your inner ear and sounds long after the recording has concluded, a recording about which Bach and Mozart lovers will rejoice.

Idar Karevold, Sept 1998 - published in Aftenposten (Oslo)

David Skudlik