Bach: French Suites, BWV 812, 813, 814, 815, 816, 817; Suite in A minor, BWV 818a; Suite in E flat, BWV 819a

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: French Suites, BWV 812, 813, 814, 815, 816, 817; Suite in A minor, BWV 818a; Suite in E flat, BWV 819a
PERFORMER: Masaaki Suzuki (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1113-14
Any idea what ‘Jüngere Gestalt, verzierte Fassung (Fassung B)’ means? You have? We obviously both misspent our youths. I had a hunch, confirmed when I got out the Neue Bach-Ausgabe Series 5, Vol. 8 (1980) of the ‘French’ Suites (not Bach’s name): this ‘later form, ornamented version’ is an idealisation, distilled from a multitude of manuscripts by editor Alfred Dürr and placed second in Vol. 8, hence ‘version B’. To stick this on the box, untranslated, is meaningless and, to a buyer, potentially off-putting: ‘Hmm, maybe these aren’t the French Suites?’

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Actually, if you do crave surprises, only one movement, a minuet in Suite No. 3, is unfamiliar; but BWV 818a and 819a, rightly rejected by Bach from his own canon, make intriguing listening. If you do decide to give ‘Fassung B’ a try, you’ll unfortunately be rewarded with a bizarrely mongrel acoustic, at once close, crisp and clear, but with a cosmic background of jangly, tiring reverberation. The booklet lists headphones among the recordist’s kit but no loudspeakers. The sound is certainly better on cans.

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It’s a pity, as Suzuki, BIS’s Bach cantata champion, is much more than just a fine choral conductor. His ornaments, over and above what Dürr mined from the manuscripts, are an idiomatic delight. He’s happiest in up-tempo, concerto-like movements, especially gigues; the sarabandes’ more inward poetry sometimes eludes him, especially as his registrations can be a bit loud and over-excite that reverb. Still, for recreative freedom and personality, he’s not far behind my current favourite, Ton Koopman, and he’s less cavalier with repeats. Nick Morgan