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Phantasm - J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Consort – I - The Strad

Keyboard works joyfully and successfully adapted to viol consort

Although mostly conceived for harpsichord or clavichord, Bach’s linear counterpoint surely invites performances on instruments that can actually sustain a musical line. Already Mozart got busy transcribing fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier for string trio, and since his time there have been numerous arrangements of the Two and Three-Part Inventions, not to mention The Art of Fugue and The Musical Offering, for ensembles of the most different kinds. In what is promisingly billed as a first volume, Laurence Dreyfus’s viol consort, Phantasm has now adapted a varied selection of preludes, fugues and choral-based movements from Bach’s keyboard works for three- to six-part ensemble, and they are a joy to listen to.

Well caught in the friendly but revealing acoustic of Berlin’s Jesus Church, the players present Bach’s intricate lines as the most sophisticated kind of chamber music, their instruments’ slightly differing timbres a welcome help for following the musical discourse. They sometimes ‘cheat’ by transposing individual movements to a more convenient key, but I’m not complaining given the delightful results (it’s nevertheless fascinating to note how an abstruse key like B flat minor actually dampens the viols’ sound). Phantasm brings out the sprightly vivacity of pieces such as the 19th Prelude from Book 1, or the fugue BWV547, and finds a most intimate tone for Bach’s settings of the 137th Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer.

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The Strad
01 June 2020