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J.S. Bach: The Art of Fugue
3¼-hour DVD with two videos
On 2 CDs George Ritchie plays a Thuringian-style organ
Reviews The Gramophone: "…the finest Art of Fugue" Reviews Choir & Organ: "Magnificent" - [FSF-0001]
$46.95

". . . magnificent recording of the Art of Fugue . . .  listening to this recording is itself a transporting experience." reviews Notes, quarterly journal of the Music Library Association

"A lavish production, fully justified by a great performance from George Ritchie . . . the finest recording of Bach's Art of Fugue irrespective of media or instrument." reviews The Gramophone

"
Magnificent in its uncompromising approach, this remarkable production should be a set text for all university, college and conservatoire courses for performers and academics alike. ‘Lay’ people and Bach aficionados (with or without their own copy of the score) are certain to gain just as much pleasure and understanding of this monumental work from this endlessly absorbing set" reviews Choir and Organ

This package consists of

Two CDs and one 3¼-hour DVD


The DVD contains two major video productions about J. S. Bach:

  • a 90-minute program entitled "Desert Fugue" featuring a brilliant presentation by leading Bach scholar Christoph Wolff concerning what many consider to be Bach's ultimate intellectual and musical creation, The Art of Fugue, discussing the milieu in which it was created. As well, "Desert Fugue" includes George Ritchie's enlightening comments on the work and a fascinating interview with American organbuilders Ralph Richards and Bruce Fowkes, especially regarding their Opus 14 built in the style of organs known to Bach and played by him for most of his career in and near central Germany (with emphasis on Thuringian and Saxon builders Gottfried Silbermann, Zacharias Hildebrandt, and Tobias Heinrich Gottfried Trost). Briefly and fascinatingly, the DVD compares the sound of a Dutch/North German organ with the very different, almost orchestral, sound of a central German organ of Bach's day.
  • George Ritchie lectures on Bach's fugal and compositional techniques especially as they relate to the Art of Fugue, with musical demonstrations. The lecture discusses the entire work generally  and each of the 14 contrapuncti in an hour and 51 minutes.

The Two CDs contain
  • George Ritchie's performance of the entire Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, on the Richards, Fowkes & Co. organ completed in 2006 at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, Scottsdale, Arizona. This organ is built in the style known to Bach in his central German homeland of Thuringia.
  • George Ritchie's performance of Contrapunctus 14, Fuga a 3 Soggetti, left uncompleted by Bach in Art of Fugue, as completed by Helmut Walcha
  • The CDs also contain George Ritchie's performances of other late works of J. S. Bach:
Ricercar a 6 from the Musical Offering, BWV 1079, played on the Bedient organ, op. 8, at Cornerstone Church, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Vor deinen Thron tret' ich hiermit BWV 668 played on the Taylor and Boody organ, op. 9, at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts (borrowed from George Ritchie's recording of the complete Bach organ works on Raven OAR-875)

Canonic Variations on Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her BWV 769a played on the Taylor and Boody organ, op. 9, at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts (borrowed from George Ritchie's recording of the complete Bach organ works on Raven OAR-875)

The six Schübler Chorales played on the John Brombaugh & Associates organ, op. 26, at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee (borrowed from George Ritchie's recording of the complete Bach organ works on Raven OAR-875)

Packaged with the discs is a booklet containing stoplists and photographs of the organs, registrations used in the recordings, definitions of musical terms, an introduction to the project, notes on the on the other later works of Bach as contained in the additional CD tracks, a brief essay "An Approach to the Art of Fugue" by George Ritchie, and a brief biography of George Ritchie.

All but one track on the CDs and the DVD were recorded by Edward J. Kelly.  The entire production was designed and produced by Will Fraser and Simon Still of Fugue State Films of Great Britain. Customers in the US and Canada will normally receive the NTSC version of this program as compatible with the TV systems in the US and Canada. Customers elsewhere or in the US may request a PAL version for the European TV system when the order is placed, in the "comments" section of the check out.

Review in The Gramophone:
A lavish production, fully justified by a great performance from George Ritchie
To all outward appearances - even the label on which it has been released - this would seem to be a filmed performance of The Art of Fugue. But that's not the case at all. True, one of the three discs encased within a very hefty and attractive box is a DVD, but The Art of Fugue itself appears on two audio CDs.

That's no disappointment. American Bach specialist George Ritchie offers up such an intensely focused and directly communicative performance that it's hard to think what any visual element could contribute other than providing an irritating distraction. Ritchie writes in the accompanying booklet that this is a work that "pleases the mind and the ear in equal measure" and in the DVD sets out his interpretative goal, hoping that listeners will be "thinking about the music, not what I'm doing to it". As good as his word, Ritchie's CD performances are of the type that demand the closest attention from listeners - if this was on film, it would be one best experienced with eyes firmly shut - and while his playing is neat and utterly devoid of idiosyncrasy, it draws the ear so fully into Bach's music that I have no hesitation in describing this as a reference recording. Which is not to say that Ritchie is not guilty of the odd indiscretion - a strangely stiff and lumpy approach to Contrapunctus 11 and some waywardness in the Canon alla Ottava - but these barely ruffle the surface and any doubts are quickly smoothed over by the lovely organ sound and Ritchie's subtle and highly sensitive use of registration, all details of which are mapped out in the booklet.

The contents of the DVD are a worthy accessory to the two CDs. On a practical level, navigation is poor with no real method, other than trial and error, of finding specific points on the disc; with two films and three hours' playing time, that is a major drawback. But it's worth persevering with random searches and copious use of the forward and backward buttons, for the first of those films is a tremendously illuminating and magnificently produced documentary on the background to the recording itself, with interviews with Christoph Wolff and Messrs. Richards and Fowkes (who built the Arizona organ on which the recording was made), as well as with Ritchie himself enthusing about the work and, in one of the film's more fascinating episodes, the completion of the final Fugue by Ritchie's own teacher Helmut Walcha.

The second film is a section-by-section description of the work with Ritchie highlighting the problems (illustrated by the edition of the score used in the recordings) and giving his solutions to them; an indulgence which most performers would envy but which is justified here by the uniquely dedicated work of everyone involved in what is, for me, the finest recording of Bach's Art of Fugue irrespective of media or instrument

 

Review by Graeme Kay in Choir and Organ:

 

The vocabulary of modern documentary TV is deeply ingrained in our lives. It’s driven by a desire to hang on to the viewer at all costs – all too often the result is sound-bite scripts, frenetic editorial cutting and a concentration on arresting, but not always relevant, visual imagery. Fugue State Films’ Art of Fugue project is the absolute antithesis: conventional broadcasters would run a mile. The 2CD + DVD package is built around the US organist and pedagogue George Ritchie’s performance of Bach’s revised version, on the Richards, Fowkes organ of Pinnacle Presbyterian, Scottsdale, Arizona (with supplementary Bach works including Helmut Walcha’s completion of the final fugue, played on Taylor and Boody, Bedient and Brombaugh organs).

 

The audio tracks are complimented by a three-and-a-half hour DVD, Desert Fugue. In this documentary Ritchie and the doyen of Bach scholars, Christoph Wolff, are intercut as they discuss the meaning and impact of the work on the history of western music; organ builders Ralph Richards and Bruce Fowkes provide illumination on the organ of the Bach era (and modern US organ design); and finally, Ritchie and Wolff discuss the reception history of the Art of Fugue. Long pieces-to-camera are cut together with a linking narration by director Will Fraser that allows the story to unfold with the kind of pace and depth which the work’s rich complexities, and the protagonists’ detailed knowledge and experience, fully deserve. Fraser makes copious use of stills and recorded footage from Arizona, Leipzig, Naumburg, the Netherlands, England, and the Richards, Fowkes factory, to provide a visual counterpoint to the detailed narrative. To cap this, Ritchie sits at the Scottsdale console to provide nearly two hours of engaging, spontaneous bar-by-bar analysis, with helpful cutaways to the score; there is even a booklet with written notes and organ specifications.

 

Magnificent in its uncompromising approach, this remarkable production should be a set text for all university, college and conservatoire courses for performers and academics alike. ‘Lay’ people and Bach aficionados (with or without their own copy of the score) are certain to gain just as much pleasure and understanding of this monumental work from this endlessly absorbing set.

.

J.S. Bach: The Art of Fugue<BR>3¼-hour DVD with two videos<BR>On 2 CDs George Ritchie plays a Thuringian-style organ<BR><font color=red>Reviews <I>The Gramophone</I>: <I>\"…the finest Art of Fugue\"</I> Reviews <I>Choir & Organ: \"Magnificent\"</I></font>
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