The New York Times

...a commanding new recording of Bach's "Art of Fugue". To say that Phantasm (whose members, in addition to Laurence Dreyfus, are Wendy Gillespie, Jonathan Manson and Markku Luolajan-Mikkola) avoids the "Where's Waldo?" trap is like saying that Mikhail Baryshnikov avoids the clumsiness trap. The group's refined sense of contrapuntal balance is most evident in spots where Bach intentionally hides the first note of the main subject when it is played in the middle of a fugue. Many performers spotlight the otherwise hidden entry by accenting the first note to make it stand out from everything going on around it. Phantasm instead lets the entry emerge naturally out of the texture and surprise us once we recognize it.... Phantasm communicates more than just the subtleties of contrapuntal technique. As Dreyfus emphasizes, "The Art of Fugue" is full of emotion and also of "fascinating commentary" on the musical world in which Bach lived. Phantasm catches the allusions when Bach refers to various Baroque styles, like a sacred choral motet, a French overture or a gigue. These allusions raise another quandary of transplanting old music to modern contexts: do the period references mean anything to the nonspecialist modern listener? Phantasm shows how they might. The allusions help define the music's emotional character.... Phantasm's recording, while on historically "wrong" instruments, will not become outmoded. It conveys too much of the musical accomplishment, the mystery and the humanity of "The Art of Fugue." Like other outstanding Bach performers before it, Phantasm reminds us that anachronism can have its uses.




Apr 1999


Bernard D. Sherman

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