The Amsterdam Bach Soloists comprise an ensemble of ten or so musicians. They play modern instruments but base their musical approach on ''an undogmatic use of authentic interpreting practice, so that the rich potentialities of the modern instruments can be combined with the baroque way of performing, which is in keeping with the accomplishments of Nikolaus Harnoncourt with the Concertgebouw Orchestra''. Most of the players are, in fact, drawn from the Concertgebouw, though there are some from Frans Bruggen's Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. Nowadays Bach's didactic but very beautiful The Art of Fugue, is widely regarded as a work for solo harpsichord. Bach himself left no precise indication concerning instrumentation but the music was engraved in open score which places each individual voice or strand of the texture on a separate stave. This practice was not uncommon in contrapuntal keyboard works and is one of several features pointing towards the solo harpsichord as being Bach's most likely intention. Nevertheless, since 1924, when the Swiss musician Wolfgang Graeser set the canons and fugues for various combinations of instruments, the practice of performing The Art of Fugue with a mixed ensemble has remained popular.
The two films on this DVD combine some of the most demanding chamber works ever written. Recorded at the atmospheric Academy of Sciences in Budapest, the Keller Quartet plays a version of Bach’s unfinished masterpiece The Art of the Fugue for string quartet intertwined with works by renowned contemporary composer György Kurtág – a programme that the four Hungarians developed and have successfully performed on international stages. Anner Bylsma, Dutch master cellist and world-renowned as a distinguished interpreter of Bach’s cello music, plays the solo suites. The suites, on which he has also published an authoritative book, count among the most popular baroque chamber works. Anner Bylsma plays the famous Stradivarius “Servais” and the disc was recorded in the beautiful village church St Bartholomew of Dornheim in Thuringia.
This new version by the greatly-gifted young Hungarian pianist Zoltan Kocsis, again vindicates the contention that The Art of Fugue makes its best effect as a keyboard work, even if on a modern piano. For Kocsis Bach's intellectual and technical demands seem to pose no problems: his exposition of the polyphonic conversation, whether, two, three or four participants are involved, is always admirably lucid and enables each voice to have its say. This is no doubt helped by the rather dry quality of the Hungaroton/ Philips recording on LP (the CD is appreciably fuller and brighter), and by Kocsis's very discreet use of the sustaining pedal.
He was born in 's-Graveland, North Holland and studied organ and harpsichord from 1947 to 1950 with Eduard Müller at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel. In 1950, he made his debut as a harpsichordist in Vienna, where he studied musicology. He was professor of harpsichord at the Academy of Music from 1952 to 1955 and at the Amsterdam Conservatory from 1954. He was also a church organist.wiki
The Art of Fugue or 'complete practical fugal work', as C. P. E. Bach described his father's giant contrapuntal achievement, is well represented in the current recording catalogue. The approaches to it vary considerably with performances on solo keyboard—harpsichord and organ—and mixed ensembles with markedly different shades of instrument colour. Varied too, is the sequence in which the performers play the fugal parts which comprise the whole. Some complete the final fugue, some do not; some find a place for all the pieces included in the posthumous original edition of 1751, others have given reasons for omitting those which seem not to play a directly relevant part in Bach's scheme. Kenneth Gilbert leads us down another fascinating path his performance on a solo harpsichord follows not the 1751 printed edition but Bach's own autograph material differing from the other both in content and layout.
This performance of Bach's Art of Fugue is an analog recording originally released in 1986. It was first digitally mastered and offered on CD in 1988, then was re-mastered in 2001 and paired with a new recording of Bach's Musical Offering as part of Alia Vox's boxed-set edition "The Testament of Bach". Now the performance has again been re-mastered as a full SACD multi-channel hybrid, and it has much in common with its companion Musical Offering recorded 14 years later and also directed by Jordi Savall (with his ensemble Le Concerts de Nations)…–John Greene, ClassicsToday.com