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JS Bach: Orchestral Suites Nos 1-4 (Dunedin Consort)

Dunedin Consort/John Butt (Linn Records)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

JS Bach
Orchestral Suites Nos 1-4
Dunedin Consort/John Butt
Linn Records CKD666   101:18 mins (2 discs)


Grafting a little Italianate vivacity and Germanic contrapuntal density onto the root stock of the French Suite, Bach’s orchestral suites are consistent in their inconsistency. He never liked to repeat himself so each of the Ouvertüren boasts its own scoring as well as dance card – ranging from three to six dances, and from the solo-flute-capped intimacy of BWV 1067 to the full orchestral ‘Monty’ of BWV 1069 with its trumpets, winds and strings. And with the latter’s last grand hurrah – a ‘Réjouissance’ full of pomp and D major circumstance – John Butt and his crack team complete their ‘Bach Masterworks’ series.

There are few more persuasive Bachians than Butt, who always reconsiders everything afresh. Adroitly he judges the tense grandeur of BWV 1069’s opening, and is in his exuberant element as the gigue-like fugal section skips along with unconstrained glee – the pugnacious timpani determined not to miss out on the fun. For the B minor Suite, the strings are slimmed down to one-to-a-part better to balance the flute which sparkles in the famous ‘Badinerie’ and discloses a pensively languid ‘Sarabande’.

The C major Ouverture exudes real warmth, affection and openness of texture, but the dances that follow it sometimes sound a little low-key. A certain aristocratic politesse informs Butt’s straightforwardness (surely the point he might argue); but at times he’s less characterful than in, say, the Suite No. 3’s bumptious ‘Gavotte’ complete with eyelash-fluttering sighs. Even so, a worthy conclusion to a series that includes some toweringly authoritative performances.


Paul Riley