JS Bach: Orchestral Suites

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Orchestral Suites
PERFORMER: Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Petra Müllejans, Gottfried von der Goltz
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902113.14

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According to the booklet notes, BWV 1066-1069 ‘bristle with unresolved questions’. Curiously they ignore one of the most interesting of all: JS Bach called these works Ouvertüren, so why are they known in English as ‘Orchestral Suites’? Their ‘orchestral’ nature has been challenged by early music specialists such as Andrew Parrott and, more recently, Il Fondamento, who have recorded one-to-a-part manifestos.

In the Freiburg Orchestra’s exhilarating account, the soft-grained Baroque flute which gilds the B minor Suite certainly fits well with the ‘small is beautiful’ impulse. But when Bach deploys heavier artillery – trumpets and woodwind – the ensemble expands to a string band of 15. Its reading may lack sensational revelations, but it’s exuberant and stylish, laced with felicitous insights into Bach’s sophisticated take on the French style. Just occasionally strong beats are overemphasised, and some may find Karl Kaiser’s flutey embroidery fussy in places.

But the dances leap off the page and overtures crackle with incisive declamation. Shame the Freiburgers didn’t add some ‘extras’: lasting just over 90 minutes, this double CD seems short-lived.

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Paul Riley