Bach: Overtures, BWV 97a & 119a; Orchestral Suites, BWV 1066, 1067, 1068, 1069

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Overtures, BWV 97a & 119a; Orchestral Suites, BWV 1066, 1067, 1068, 1069
PERFORMER: Nova Stravaganza/Siegbert Rampe
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 341 1131-2
This interesting release features Bach’s four orchestral suites in versions which, in certain instances at least, will be unfamiliar to most readers. Siegbert Rampe, who directs Nova Stravaganza, has based his performances on the earliest surviving copies of the suites, introducing at the same time an element of conjecture. That extends to their periods of composition for, while it has often been assumed that the suites belong to Bach’s Leipzig years, it is much more likely that he wrote them at earlier stages in his life. Rampe presents his findings lucidly and unpretentiously in an accompanying booklet essay. The major differences between these versions and those which are generally heard concern the Second, Third and Fourth Suites. Thus the B minor Suite for flute and strings is transposed to A minor, with the flute replaced by a violin. The Third Suite (D major) is stripped of woodwind, brass and timpani, ‘reverting’ to a work for strings only, while the Fourth Suite loses its trumpets and drums but retains its woodwind parts.

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In addition to the suites, Rampe includes instrumental reconstructions of the partly choral French ouverture movements belonging to two cantatas, BWV 97 and 119. These, though more conjectural than the early versions of the suites, are not implausible. But it’s surprising that Rampe has not addressed his scholarship to the Cantata (BWV 194) which Bach performed at the inauguration of a newly built organ in the church at Störmthal, near Leipzig. Not only does it begin with a splendid ouverture in the French manner but it continues with four arias, each of which is in the character and rhythm of a stylised dance.

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Performances are tidy, with clearly defined gestures, but at times they feel dry and characterless, and similar reconstructions of the Fourth Suite by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and the Amsterdam Bach Soloists (both on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi) are more engaging. Nicholas Anderson