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GRAMOPHONE (Awards Issue/2015)
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Reviewer: Julie Anne Sadie

Canadian ensemble play The Art of Fugue on viols In 2002 Fretwork garnered deserved praise for their viol consort version of Bach’s The Art of Fugue. Many fine solo keyboard versions have come before, most memorably that of Glenn Gould, string quartet versions by the Juilliard and Emerson quartets and recordings of mixed ensembles (the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Musica Antiqua Köln), the fruit of a continuing search for new ways to experience what is a haunting glimpse into the mind of a genius. Les Voix Humaines therefore felt they had something different and compelling to say.


Margaret Little and Susie Napper are Les Voix Humaines, and they are joined here by Mélisande Corriveau and Felix Deak to make up the consort. From the first track, they play with a distinctively French accent, incorporating enflés (swells) – something a harpsichord or piano could never achieve. Elegant, yes; Bachian, maybe not.

The arguments for and against homogeneity and differentiation of line are also matters of taste but even in a performance such as this both qualities can, and perhaps should, prevail. It is in this context that I find issue with this otherwise beautifully performed version of The Art of Fugue, though it may be that there was a technical decision in the production of the recording that compromised the clarity of the inner parts of some of the four-part Contrapuncti (No 3 in particular). Elsewhere (trs 9 and 15), the overall effect is ethereal. The two-part Canons are especially well played and the final Contrapunctus 14 sublime.

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