Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 6
Sound Quality: 9
When more and more pianists record Bach’s The Art of Fugue, the interpretive bar inevitably rises. As such, Eloïse Bella Kohn falls short of the best. While she’s obviously a sincere and serious musician, she realizes her intentions awkwardly.
Kohn’s eagerness to underline subject entrances and to emphasize interesting secondary voices often yields choppy or rambling results, with no clear-cut dynamic game plan and too many protruding accents for comfort. She takes the rare initiative to insert a cadenza just before the first fugue’s coda, yet does so in a rushed, lurching manner. Contrapunctus 4 boasts a perky basic tempo, yet little dynamic or textural diversity. Her slight rushing ahead at No. 5’s midpoint undermines the implicit vocal qualities of the imitative writing that immediately follows. No. 6 unfolds too slowly and rigidly to convey the music’s French character, as Angela Hewitt does with stylish originality.
Kohn hits upon good tempos for the harmonically extraordinary Nos. 8 and 11, yet her square phrasing soon gets old. On the other hand, she brings impressive lightness and wit to the remarkable canon in augmentation and contrary motion, compensating for her stiff and not very playful canon at the octave. For the final, unfinished fugue, Kohn utilizes a stylistically plausible and well crafted completion by Thierry Escaich. I prefer Kevin Korsyn’s solution, with its inventive use of registration and less cluttered contrapuntal writing. You can hear it via Craig Sheppard’s splendid Art of Fugue recording, which ranks among my top Art of Fugue picks together with the aforementioned Hewitt, the classic 1967 Charles Rosen, and, best of all, Evgeni Koroliov.
Reference Recording: Koroliov (Tacet); Rosen (Sony); Hewitt (Hyperion); Sheppard (Romeo)
- Eloïse Bella Kohn (piano)