WORKS: Orchestral Suites, BWV 1066-9
PERFORMER: Karl Kaiser (flute); Cologne CO/Helmut Müller-Brühl
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554609
Jordi Savall’s recording of Bach’s four Orchestral Suites was first released ten years ago and now appears in a mid-price reissue. These are period-instrument performances, rhythmically alert, stylish and full of character. The Naxos disc, by contrast, offers performances which, though often no less style-conscious, are given on modern instruments. The Cologne Chamber Orchestra, under its director Helmut Müller-Brühl, has had an unusual history, dating back to 1923, but with a ten-year caesura (1976-87) during which it took up period instruments. Now, having reverted to instruments of today, the ensemble performs 17th- and 18th-century music with a freshly acquired vocabulary, spoken with newly rehearsed inflections.
Each set has its virtues. Readers who are exclusively addicted to period instruments will not need further guidance. Savall’s performances are crisply articulated, courtly in their gestures and, in the case of the two D major Suites with their brass and timpani, resonantly ceremonial. Their strongest competition comes from the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra in its earlier recording (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi) and the English Concert’s later recording (DG Archiv). Readers who place emphasis more on musicianly performances than period versus modern instruments will find the Cologne version invigorating, graceful and light of tread. Unlike Savall, Müller-Brühl observes only the slow section repeats of the French ouvertures which preface each Suite. But all other repeats are scrupulously observed and, almost without exception the dances are brisker in the Cologne readings. If there is a more enjoyable set of its kind available at the moment then I have yet to hear it. Nicholas Anderson