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Fugue State / Alan Feinberg

Release Date: 07/10/2015
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30034 Spars Code: DDD
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach ,  Alessandro Scarlatti ,  Dietrich Buxtehude ,  George Frideric Handel  ...  Performer:  Alan Feinberg Number of Discs: 1
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins.

Fugue State features music of two generations of composers from the era of the High Baroque. While the composers each have unique and intriguingly personal styles, they share a compelling range of compositional techniques and musical ideas. They influenced each other in ways rarely presented in the piano world. This recording features some of the links and musical cross-pollination of these composers. And while fugues are generally not designed to surrender their secrets easily, there are many connections to be enjoyed by the avid listener. – Alan Feinberg

Album Credits:
Recorded September 29 – October 1, 2014 at Sono Luminus Studios in Boyce, Virginia.
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Engineer: Daniel
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Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carasquillo
Piano: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)
Piano Technician: Dan Jessie


A champion of contemporary music, this American pianist has won acclaim for adventurous programs pairing old and new works. This recording is an adventure of another kind. He plays 14 fugues by composers from two generations of the high Baroque. Along with Bach, whose presence here is of course expected, he plays works by Handel, Buxtehude, Froberger and both Scarlattis: father Alessandro and son Domenico. Surprising cross-generational similarities come through between the masterly Bach fugues and the intricate earlier ones of Froberger and Buxtehude. Heard in this context, Handel’s ingenious fugues sound wonderfully clearheaded and uncluttered. Mr. Feinberg ends with Bach’s “Ricercar a 6” from “The Musical Offering,” an elaborate work in six voices in which Bach quotes from his “Well-Tempered Clavier.” The playing throughout has elegance, color and clarity. These diverse fugues come across like character pieces, which is, as Mr. Feinberg writes in his liner notes, the way he thinks of them.

-- Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

The fugue is one of the stranger and more contradictory developments to come down the music-historical pike, an elaborately rule-bound form that still leaves plenty of room for individuality. That combination of strict constraints and expressive leeway is one of the great delights in pianist Alan Feinberg’s eloquent tour through nearly a century and a half worth of Baroque keyboard fugues. They range from the stately grandeur of a fugue by Alessandro Scarlatti to the skittish playfulness of his son Domenico, and from the dark, probing writing of Johann Jacob Froberger to the more exuberant, even theatrical, creations of Handel and Buxtehude. And of course there is J.S. Bach, reigning over the entire landscape with his infuriatingly limitless mastery of this intricate musical world. Feinberg’s performances use the modern grand piano with delicacy and inventiveness, responding to the characteristics of each fugue with apt adjustments of color, shading and touch.

-- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco chronicle

Pianist Alan Feinberg recorded expressionistic versions of John Bull's unconventional English Renaissance keyboard piece several years before releasing this utterly, by modern standards, iconoclastic collection of fugues by various composers of the 17th and 18th centuries. Unashamedly pianistic, these readings rely on the idea that, in Feinberg's words, "each fugue can be thought of as a character piece, each with its own personality, scope, level of complexity, and affect." There is little or no support for this view in the Baroque literature, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing: Feinberg puts it across. The program concludes chronologically with Bach and Handel, who surely do exhibit contrasting interior and exterior characteristics even in fugues. The program is filled out with works by Bach's model Buxtehude, whose opposite number is the more brilliant Froberger, and there are some little-known keyboard fugues by both Domenico and Alessandro Scarlatti. Feinberg's recital will not win any awards for historical accuracy, but nobody has done anything like it before, and it's highly listenable. Excellent sound from Virginia's Sono Luminus studio, emerging as a leading U.S. studio venue for high-end audio, is a major attraction.

-- James Manheim, All Music Guide

"I think that it’s fair to say that my Stereophile magazine review of Alan Feinberg's Basically Bull was a total rave. I wrapped up by assuring: 'Even if the last solo-piano recording you really enjoyed was George Winston’s December, I think you’ll love Basically Bull. Highly recommended.' So now we have Feinberg’s follow-up, Fugue State.

Fugue State is a carefully selected program of fugues from two centuries of the High Baroque. Chronologically, the composers range from Froberger (b. 1616) through Buxtehude (b. 1637) and Alessandro Scarlatti (b. 1660), to J.S. Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, and Handel; all of whom were born in the year 1685.

However, Fugue State’s program is not chronological. It begins and ends with the sprawling three- and six-part “ricercars” that begin and end Bach’s The Musical Offering (BWV 1079). “Ricercar” is a formal term that encompasses several compositional techniques predating the fugue; but the form continued as a special case of fugues. ( The Musical Offering is one of the few Bach masterpieces that I think are fair to call “under-appreciated.”) Other pieces from Bach and from the other composers make up Fugue State’s generous playing time of 64 minutes.

Along the way, there is enough variation in tempo, mood, voicing, and ornament that there is never a risk that the listener will feel trapped in a clothing factory full of sewing machines that are running at full tilt. While it is true that “fugue state” is an out-of-date mental-health diagnostic term, there is no craziness in this program. The Baroque era was the height, and the end-game, of Christian Rationalism. Bach wrote music along disciplined rational lines, to justify God’s ways to man. And by the time of Bach’s death (1750), that was already out of fashion...

As for the recorded sound, it is a little different from that of Basically Bull; slightly more distant and reverberant. But that I ascribe to the differing demands of the music, and I think that the recorded sound in its own way is as excellent.

Highly recommended."

-- The Tannhäuser Gate

“It is impossible to be stupid while listening to Bach,” novelist Ellen Gilchrist wrote in her journals (published under the title of “Falling Through Space”). “There is something about the art of fugue that soothes the brain. I used to make a joke out of this and tell my friends that they could stop suffering love and stop listening to love songs and listen to Bach instead.” She’s not alone. Mozart’s wife, Constanze, loved fugues and got him to write several. This disc is all Baroque fugues, by masters including Handel, Buxtehude and Domenico and Allesandro Scarlatti. It begins and ends with Johann Sebastian Bach, and two fugues by Handel bring out his unique stately grace. Alan Feinberg has a nice neutral tone that neatly delineates the music’s clear lines. At the same time, it’s not dry. There is a touch of pedal in there. He is ultra-gentle with the music, perhaps too gentle for some. It’s good how he is careful to “mix it up,” say, by contrasting a mournful, lovely creation by Alessandro Scarlatti with a rapid, fun-filled “Gigue” fugue by Dietrich Buxtehude. Still the cool logic of this music can grow trancelike. It would be nice to have in your glove compartment or iPhone, just for when you need an antidote to life’s troubles.

-- The Buffalo News

There is something inherently quixotic in Alan Feinberg’s new Steinway & Sons release, Fugue State. It features 14 wonderful fugues, fascinating in their variety and their exploration of contrapuntal and expressive principles, by some of the greatest practitioners of the form in musical history, all played with great skill—on an instrument for which none of them was written, and indeed one that is poorly equipped to bring forth the counterpoint that lies at the heart of the fugue. Even more than early fortepianos, even more than 19th-century instruments up to the Erard, the modern Steinway is ill-equipped for the music Feinberg plays—forcing the pianist to play against the depth, grandeur and harmonic blending that are the modern piano’s salient characteristics, rather than using that combination of elements to produce the full, rich, blended sound for which today’s pianos were designed. It is therefore difficult to figure out to whom Feinberg’s CD will appeal. Certainly the performances themselves are first-rate, and certainly there is always some interest in hearing Baroque music played on a modern piano—up to a point. But Fugue State goes well beyond that point. The most interesting thing about the disc, musically, is the chance it offers to hear the contrasting fugal creations of two generations of Baroque composers. The older generation includes Johann Jacob Froberger (Canzona No. 2 in G minor), Dietrich Buxtehude (Fugue in C, BuxWV 174, “Gigue”; Fugue in G, BuxWV 175), and Alessandro Scarlatti (Fugue in F minor). The younger generation, whose works are much better known, includes Domenico Scarlatti (Sonatas in D minor, K 417; in G minor, K 30, “The Cat’s Fugue”; in C minor, K 58); Handel (Fugue in B-flat, HWV 607, No. 3; Fugue in A minor, HWV 609, No. 5); and, of course, Bach (“Ricercar a 3” and “Ricercar a 6” from “The Musical Offering”; Fugue on a Theme by Albinoni, BWV 951; Fugue in C, BWV 953; Fugue in A, BWV 949). The CD’s arrangement, though, makes ready comparison of the older and younger composers’ music difficult: Bach opens and closes the disc, but there is little apparent rationale for the juxtaposition of the remaining works. The result is a recording featuring some very fine playing and an unusually extended look at varieties of fugue and differing emotional as well as technical elements of the form—but a disc that practically cries out for the fugues to be heard on the instruments for which these composers created them.


The fugue is one of the most foundational compositional structures of Western classical music, and while Bach is usually the first name that comes to mind when discussing fugal writing, he’s hardly the only great composer of fugue-based pieces, even during the baroque period. This collection features fugues written by Bach, Handel, Scarlatti (both of them), Buxtehude, and Froberger, and they vary in mood from the dark and contemplative to the playful and sparkling. Feinberg plays on a Steinway grand (naturally, given the record label), and makes personalized but tasteful use of the instrument’s capabilities.

-- CD Hotlist

Renowned pianist Alan Feinberg celebrates the fugue—a staple of baroque era keyboard repertoire—in a collection of works by six composers. Expressing that each fugue can be recognized as a character piece with its own unique magnetism, Feinberg expertly imparts the delicate complexity and subtlety required to convey each composer’s nuances in the genre.


After his last Steinway CD that focused on the Elizabethan works of John Bull, Feinberg moves up into the Baroque era with a focus on fugues. The great composers are represented here, but perhaps more importantly, the meditative and surprisingly melodic elements of fugues come into clear focus in this intelligent collection. Many people say they like “music to study to” to help them concentrate. Here’s the ticket. Feinberg says, “Performing works of the Baroque period on a modern Steinway enables the use of an especially rich tool for contrapuntal expression. In the end, I think that the performer’s task is to strive to harness the same spiritual, personal, intellectual, and technical concerns that the composer has mustered in order to re-create or re-imagine these past works for the present.” Fugues can be dry stuff, and Feinberg brings out the drama, the elegance, and surprising tenderness.

-- The WSCL Blog

A fugue is not so much a form as it is a texture, and if you assemble 14 Baroque-period fugue-based pieces for a piano recital, the risk is that a certain sameness might prevail. Happily, that’s not the case here. Once again Alan Feinberg proves his reputation as a provocative yet immensely thoughtful programme-builder. And like his late teacher Robert Helps, Feinberg is a pianist who can elucidate rigorous musical structures with a flexible and internalised approach to rhythm and spacing, not to mention his ample, multi-hued sonority.

These qualities reveal themselves in how freely yet naturally and logically the two Bach Musical Offering ricercars unfold, along with the leisurely spun-out yet well-sustained Alessandro Scarlatti F minor Fugue. The latter’s son Domenico is represented by three fugal sonatas, among which the famous Cat’s Fugue stands out for its intelligently parsed dynamics and long singing lines. Every repeated note in the Buxtehude G minor Fugue has a different colour, while chromatic works such as Handel’s A minor Fugue (from HWV609) and Froberger’s G minor Canzona No 2 radiate inner strength and ravishing nuance.

In Bach’s B minor Fugue on an Albinoni theme, Feinberg employs subtle tempo fluctuations and strategic accents that help give shape and dimension to the music’s harmonic richness. In addition, Feinberg’s melodic pointing and vocally orientated phrasing prevent the relentless toccatalike patterns in the C major Fugue (BWV953) from sounding the least bit mechanical and ‘notey’, an achievement easier said than done on a modern concert grand. The warm and realistically defined engineering does full justice to Feinberg’s seasoned mastery.

-- Gramophone

The longer fugues of Bach have sometimes lulled me into a “fugue state” where I suddenly realize that I’ve wandered far afield without remembering how I got there or how much time has passed, and so I have no idea whether I’m hearing the subject, countersubject, some unrelated episode, or perhaps another fugue altogether.

It’s to pianist Feinberg’s credit, and inspired programming, that I rarely drifted into any sort of amnesia while enjoying his recital of 14 fugues or quasi-fugues. With the exception of Scarlatti’s Cat Fugue, Feinberg avoids popular fugues of the main composers here, yet through alert and loving phrasing, using all the resources of a modern Steinway D, he grips the listener’s attention in what can be a dry and imposing musical form in the wrong hands. There’s plenty of pedal, sacrificing clarity much of the time (Glenn Gould’s shade wept), to build powerful, romantic climaxes, fulfilling the promise, printed on the back of the digipak, of “An excursion into the passionate world of fugal composition in the High Baroque era”.

Feinberg begins and finishes his recital with the bookend ricercars of Bach’s Musical Offering, alternating slow, somber pieces and more animated, joyful, and/or angry pieces in between, on an excellent piano that’s recorded close. Baroque purists might sniff at Feinberg’s romanticized interpretations, but I think most listeners will not soon forget this unusual recital.

-- American Record Guide

A recital comprised of 14 fugues all written by composers of the same era—the High Baroque? Upon first hearing this, I was hesitant about the idea. Perhaps the thought might be better than its realization. For wouldn’t the sound of one fugue after another, all written in a similar language, be a bit monotonous after a while? But given the repertoire’s nature, the freedom of formal design, the number of voices, the tempo, the character, the varied keys, and the different composers chosen, my fears were soon allayed. And that was all due to the performer: What did arise was the sense of the journey that the pianist, Alan Feinberg, had so carefully plotted for his audience. When one understands the fugue in the way that the pianist does here—“as a character piece, each with its own personality, scope, level of complexity, and affect”—the more plausible the whole project seemed. Beginning and ending with Bach—from the improvisatory opening Ricercar a 3 to, arguably, the most rigorous exercise in counterpoint which the master wrote for two hands, the Ricercar a 6, both from The Musical Offering—the recital leads us through a series of fugues of all shapes and sizes, from the little-known and little-played contemporary Handel fugues and more-oft-played Scarlatti sonatas, through the music of some of the composers who most influenced that next generation, including Buxtehude, Froberger, and Domenico Scarlatti’s father, Alessandro.

And if one is familiar with the music of any or all of these composers, one will be struck at how characteristic each of these fugues shows off the personality of its creator—and yet how much more it reveals: Bach, contrapuntal wizard that he was, could also relax to the point of improvisatory lightness in even the greatest, most profound of movements. Handel, the noted keyboard improviser, could produce fugues of astounding seriousness and complexity—the quirky subject (with its numerous leaps up and down, followed by a chromatic run) of the A-Minor Fugue was quite a surprise to this listener. And, while Domenico Scarlatti may have been a later, more Classically inspired composer than his father, both were equally capable of producing contrapuntal masterpieces. I found Alessandro’s F-Minor Fugue especially moving, with its slow paced and oddly-compartmentalized subject, but Domenico’s D-Minor Sonata was enchanting for the opposite reasons: its extreme virtuosity, its relaxation of its own contrapuntal sensibilities, and its overall minor-mood playfulness. Whoever said that minor-keyed works had to sound sad? Buxtehude and Froberger are revealed as major figures, both original and captivating: masters of their intimate knowledge of contrapuntal techniques, their highly dramatic sensibilities, and their virtuosic keyboard flair. What must their music have sounded like to their contemporaries?

What Feinberg brings to this recital, though, is what makes this project not just highly fascinating, educational, or revealing, but captivating: The pianist brings a sense of exploration, of freshness of approach, and, what he doesn’t worry about—a lack of concern for the “correctness” of instrumentation. In other words, in his hands, this is not organ music, not harpsichord music, not even keyboard music, but piano music—and he uses every capability of his instrument to his advantage, from the coloration of notes and harmonies, the smoothness of his legato, to the careful dynamic delineation of voices. So if one were interested in this repertoire, as per his last recording of the keyboard music of Bull and his contemporaries, then one could hardly have a better advocate to lead one through the contrapuntal trappings of this music. And what fun this journey has been!

-- Fanfare
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