JS Bach: Four Orchestral Suites

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Klavier
WORKS: Four Orchestral Suites: No. 1 in C, BWV 1066; No. 2 in A minor, after BWV 1067; No. 3 in D, after BWV 1068; No. 4 in D, after BWV 1069
PERFORMER: Ensemble Sonnerie/Monica Huggett
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2171

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Sonnerie is not the first group to record a pre-Leipzig version of Suites Nos 3 and 4, a process that involved stripping out the brilliance-enhancing trumpets and drums; but this album, Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince, goes one step further and tries to restore Cöthen credentials to the complete set – an idea which has some interesting implications for the flutey B minor.

Several scholars have hazarded an A minor original, perhaps spotlighting the violin. Oboist Gonzalo X Ruiz suggests some compelling reasons for preferring his instrument, and delivers the coup de grâce with a performance whose Bourrée 2 (complementing a decidedly incisive and chirpy Bourrée 1) is a tour de force of vivacious oboe perpetuum mobile.

The Finale, though, emerges a touch low key. Ruiz believes ‘Badinerie’ to be a misspelling of ‘Battinerie’, arguing that amiable chit-chat isn’t the issue but that the music trades in martial figuration better left to the trumpet-aping oboe. Even in A minor it’s hard to hear any radically different characterisation, and in truth the flute version – quintessential B minor Bach as exemplified by the keyboard Ouverture in the French Style, BWV831 – need not fear this usurping alternative.

By the same token, why, beyond natural curiosity, choose a version of Suite No. 4 without trumpets and drums, the very elements that Bach added for extra jubilation when he adapted the music to cantata purposes? One reason to hear this version might be the wonderful buoyancy, lift and insights of Monica Huggett’s treasurable Sonnerie.

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These performances are alive with fine moments, yet even the ‘young Prince’ might have enjoyed Bach’s last thoughts (tellingly realised by Koopman and Pinnock, for example) even more. Paul Riley