WORKS: Orchestral Suites, BWV 1066, 1067, 1068, 1069; Sinfonia from Easter Oratorio; Orchestral Movements from Cantatas 18, 31, 152 & 207
PERFORMER: Lisa Beznosiuk (flute) New London Consort/Philip Pickett
CATALOGUE NO: 452 000-2
We don’t know when or why Bach composed his first orchestral suites, but it seems certain they were performed at his Leipzig Collegium Musicum concerts in the 1730s. These concerts, held in a local coffee-house, were probably convivial affairs, with students comprising the majority of players and visiting musicians welcome to sit in. The orchestral suite, derived in part from the French overture developed by Lully, was a popular form throughout Germany and Bach’s essays in the genre seem designed for broad appeal. There’s the intimate charm of the flute-based Suite No. 2, the dreamy tread of No. 3’s famous violin ‘Air’, the trumpets-and-timpani grandeur that kick-starts Nos 3 and 4 with a ceremonial flourish.
Philip Pickett courts controversy by basing his tempi on a 1739 music treatise that implies Gavottes should be brisker, Bourrées a touch more sedate, than is currently assumed. However, the results are disarmingly persuasive, rhythms elegant yet well sprung. Pickett also brings an enticingly airy feel to the lighter textures, while mastering sufficient thunder for the grander passages. He provides an attractive bonus, too, by including five instrumental episodes from various Bach vocal works, with the recorders and violas of BWV 18 sounding especially haunting. Excellent. Graham Lock