Sunday 11 May 2014

The Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin bring such fine playing to Mozart’s arrangements of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues on a new release from Harmonia Mundi.

On the 10th April 1782, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote to his father Leopold, ‘I go to the house of Baron Van Swieten every Sunday at 12 o’clock and nothing is played there but Handel and Bach. I am making a collection of Bach’s fugues, those of Sebastian as well as Emanuel and Friedemann’. On 6th December 1783 he again wrote to his father asking him to send some Bach fugues from Salzburg.

It is very likely that Mozart arranged a number of Bach’s fugues especially for performance at these Sunday gatherings at Van Swieten’s house in Vienna. Whilst the real revival of Bach’s music occurred in the 19th century this does show that, amongst some musicians and connoisseurs, Bach’s music still retained an enthusiasm in the late 18th century.

Harmonia Mundi has just released a recording by the Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin of Mozart’s Bach arrangements together with two of Mozart’s own original compositions in that genre.

HMC 902159
In the first arrangement, the Prelude and Fugue in D minor, K.405/4 from Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No.8, BWV 877 (The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II), the Akademie für Alte Musik produce some fine textures that, whilst not in any way rivalling Bach’s glorious creation, allow us to hear a different take on Bach’s musical lines, with Mozart laying out the fugal textures so well.

The Larghetto cantabile in D major and Fugue, K.405/5 is an arrangement of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 5, BWV 874 (The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II) with Mozart providing some lovely little decorations, nicely pointed up by the Akademie. There are such nicely turned phrases in the larghetto whilst the fugue reveals many little subtleties, even though something of the contrapuntal detail is lost in Mozart’s arrangement.

Mozart turned to Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier (Prelude and Fugue No. 22, BWV 867) for his arrangement of the Adagio and Fugue in A minor. The combination of oboe, bassoon and trombone make a striking sound in with some lovely rasping timbres and a languid feel in the Adagio. There are no problems following Bach’s lines in the fugue with the winds of the Akademie providing a wonderful sound.

The Akademie für Alte Musik put together Mozart’s Allegro in C minor, K.Anh 44 and Fuga a due Cembali, K.426, both original compositions. Although there is no positive evidence that this Allegro was intended to precede the Fuga, K.426, it has been speculated that the fragment for two harpsichords, K Anh 44, might be associated with the Fugue.

This performance features two fortepianos played by Raphael Alpermann and Jörg-Andreas Bötticher who provide some fine playing, conjuring up some terrific contrapuntal textures and making this a fascinating work.

We return to strings for the Adagio cantabile and Fugue in E flat major where Mozart looks again to Bach with his Prelude and Fugue No.7, BWV 876 from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II. Mozart beautifully layers the sounds, nicely realised by the Akademie and beautifully paced. When the fugue arrives there is some especially fine playing as the musical lines unfold.

Deep, rich bass string sounds open the adagio of Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K.546 revealing so much of Mozart’s own ideas in this form and bringing almost Handelian qualities to the music. In the fugue, the music rises to some splendid passages.

Adagio and Fugue in E major, K.405/3 takes Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No.No.9, BWV 878 from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II. The strings of the Akademie für Alte Musik slowly unfold in the Adagio of this effective arrangement. The fugue brings the same slow unfolding of lines full of dignity and warmth. These players show such sensitivity.

Finally we have two arrangements of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 4, BWV 849 from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, the Adagio and Fugue in B minor and the Adagio and Fugue in D minor.

The Adagio of the Adagio and Fugue in B minor for strings, moves forward at a nice pace with the Akademie providing a bright and clear texture. This fine texture is brought to the fugue in this wholly attractive arrangement that reveals much affinity with Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge (Art of Fugue).

There is a slow, steady paced opening to the Adagio of the Adagio and Fugue in D minor with rather Mozartian flourishes and some nicely pointed playing from this band with nicely hushed passages. It is a period bassoon that opens the fugue, followed by trombone and oboe with some glorious wind textures before the strings re-enter, building a terrific layer of sounds.

The Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin bring such fine playing to these pieces adding to the attraction of this interesting and beautifully produced issue. They receive an excellent recording and there are informative booklet notes.

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