This week, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Richard Tognetti release a new album, Bach | Beethoven: Fugue, that showcases two works of genius by Bach and Beethoven. Recorded live in concert, the album contains selections from The Art of Fugue BWV 1080 by JS Bach and Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130 (with Grosse Fuge, Op. 133). The ACO and Tognetti give these seminal works a new lease of life, opening up new soundworlds through the vitality and virtuosity for which the ACO has become renowned around the world.
Richard Tognetti describes Bach | Beethoven: Fugue as an album that covers “the gamut of expressive musical possibilities – from extreme anguish and despair to heart-aching simplicity, from intellectual rigour and pure consonance to shattering dissonance. It is everything” he says.
Both Bach and Beethoven wrote these pieces towards the end of their lives. Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge was conceived as the final movement to his last string quartet. In it he moves away from salon music into what Tognetti describes as “hyper-controlled cacophony, rousing responses ranging from rapture to despair”. This was too much for Beethoven’s contemporaries, and the quartet was soon given a more orthodox ending. On this album the Grosse Fuge is restored to its original place, and is presented in an arrangement for string orchestra by Tognetti which, in his words, is “careful not to exploit the greater dynamic capabilities at the expense of the innerlich heart of Beethoven’s uniquely powerful music”.
Bach’s The Art of Fugue was left unfinished at his death, and is a work shrouded in mystery. It is unclear for what instrument it was originally written. A masterclass in the fugue – a form in which a single musical theme repeats and weaves around itself – the first four movements are presented here using strings, winds and even the voices of the orchestra to bring out the polyphonal parts which, in Bach’s hands, speak as one.
The concerts at which this album was recorded were lauded for the ACO’s “uncanny blend of muscularity and airiness” (The Daily Telegraph) and “restless dynamism” (Sydney Morning Herald).
JS Bach (1685–1750) The Art of Fugue, BWV1080 (selections) – 1. Contrapunctus I/ 2. Contrapunctus II/ 3. Contrapunctus III/ 4. Contrapunctus IV
L van Beethoven (1770–1827) String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130 (with Grosse Fuge, Op. 133) – 5 I. Adagio ma non troppo – Allegro/ 6 II. Presto/ 7 III. Andante con moto ma non troppo (poco scherzoso)/ 8 IV. Alla danza tedesca: Allegro assai/ 9 V. Cavatina: Adagio molto espressivo/ 10 VI. Grosse Fuge
Album available 7 April 2017 on CD Digi | Digital Album | ABC 4814960