Classic Record Collector

With this Divine Art disc, you get both less and more than from [the recent keyboard versions by Scarpino and Leonhardt]; less because the canons are omitted, more because Tovey’s grand performance of his convincing completion of the unfinished fugue is appended, as it was on the 78 rpm set. The effect is slightly spoilt by the 12 secs gap left between the end of the quartet performance and the first note from the piano. Andrew Rose’s transfer seems very clever; he has had to do some digital manipulation to counteract the Roth Quartet’s tendency to slow down at the end of a side, but he has executed it tactfully.

For a normal string quartet to play The Art of Fugue involves compromises – the Juilliard Quartet avoided them by having the second violinist play a viola sometimes and commissioning a tenor viola for the violist that could handle a range lower by a fourth. The Roth Quartet plays an edition prepared by the composer Roy Harris and Mary D. Herter Norton. I have enjoyed this version, mainly for the committed string playing. Occasionally I could do with more light and shade, or greater rigour as to tempo – I keep imagining what Adolf Busch would have made of this music, and the most stirring rendering by a normal quartet remains that by two members of the Quartetto Italiano with two pupils. But even though the Roth was not a great quartet, it was a good one, and it is nice to be reminded of what was probably its most effective line-up. Decent sound and excellent presentation have enhanced my pleasure.

—Tully Potter