WORKS: Orchestral Suites, BWV 1066, 1067, 1068, 1069
PERFORMER: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Frans Brüggen
CATALOGUE NO: 442 151-2
Bach’s Orchestral Suites have an exuberance and swagger that suggest youthful origins, even if the extant scores also show signs of mature revision. Popular works, the Suites are already well represented on disc and any new interpretation needs to offer a fresh, bold approach. Philip Pickett’s recent recording (L’Oiseau-Lyre) met this challenge with brilliant élan and is now my preferred version, despite strong competition from Ton Koopman (DHM) and Reinhard Goebel (Archiv).
It may be bad luck for Frans Brüggen that his recording should appear so soon after Pickett’s captivating set, but I suspect this release would disappoint at any time. Brüggen follows Koopman’s bad example of not playing all first-movement repeats – a baffling decision that truncates the major part of each suite. (The resulting playing time of just 81 minutes explains why this two-CD set is priced as a single disc.) And whereas Koopman was partly redeemed by dramatic, characterful performances, Brüggen’s Bach is rarely more than crisply competent – and further undermined by a homogenous sound-mix that subdues the thunderous grandeur of Suites Nos 3 and 4. Suite No. 2 – played by flute, string quartet and two lutes – has a beguiling intimacy; but the rest I found bland and unengaging. Graham Lock