The Art of Fugue
The Goldberg Variations
The latest recording of The Art of Fugue quickly convinces you that a seemingly bizarre enterprise is a worth-while one. József Eötvös (b.1962, Pécs, Hungary) is clearly an exceptional guitarist. He established guitar departments in Pécs and at the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy in Budapest, and is the artistic director of the international Guitar Festival of Esztergom, Hungary. His speciality is extension of the guitar repertoire, with arrangements of Chopin, Brahms and, particularly, J S Bach. In Eötvös's experience, most guitarists he has encountered want to listen only to guitar pieces, and other musicians and musical people want to hear piano music only in its original form. His mission is to provide different repertoire for guitarists and for other people "a new colour for well known music".
Eötvös's transcription for the guitar of the Goldberg Variations - "taxing for any performer using two manuals extensively - the guitar version involves additional hardships", he writes - is true to the score, lucid in exposition of the successive variations, but ultimately less interesting for a general listener than The Art of Fugue. That is a real tour de force, and an amazing realisation of an extraordinary conception. He does not attempt the completely impossible; instead he has arranged the Henle edition for two guitars, tuned differently to encompass the full range of a work originally for harpsichord, but also abstract and suitable for other arrangements, which often help to clarify the part writing.
The Art of Fugue is recorded here on two 8-string guitars, overdubbed with consummate artistic and technical skill. There is no artificiality in the result, and Eötvös is able to introduce subtle phrasing and articulation. To increase appreciation, and better understand the music, the second of the two CDs has extra features, accessed by exploring the readme.txt and start.html files on disc 2. The music can be heard in two ways; a complete performance of the whole work on two guitars, with scores in Eotvos's edition to follow, alternatively the parts for one of the guitars are recorded separately for several of the tracks, for aspiring guitarists to 'play along' with Jozsef Eötvös.
The result of it all is as idiomatic and lively rendering of The Art of Fugue as you will find, well recorded in an intimate acoustic, persuasive and untiring to hear at length. József Eötvös has not had an opportunity to visit UK and the time seems ripe for a world tour?
Peter Grahame Woolf
* For one of the best recent recordings on harpsichord, I recommend that by Davitt Moroney which accompanies a new lavish and learned publication by the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music, edited by Richard Jones, with informative introductions and performance notes, and a graphic analysis of Contrapunctus 8. Available at £17.95 from ABRSM Publications
© Peter Grahame Woolf