COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: AAM Records
WORKS: Orchestral Suites Nos 1-4
PERFORMER: Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr
CATALOGUE NO: AAM003
A conspicuous feature of this new recording of Bach’s four orchestral suites, or ‘ouvertures’ as such suites in the Lullian tradition had become known in Germany, is one of graceful gesture. Richard Egarr, harpsichordist and director of the Academy of Ancient Music, has given careful thought to articulation and phrasing. These stylised movements which derive from French opera were not intended for dancing, yet Egarr’s understanding of them makes us want to do just that. Menuets and Gavottes are poised and unhurried while the Overtures themselves, with their resplendent opening measures and lively fugal discourses, sparkle with amiability. Just occasionally, though, it seemed to me that Egarr settled upon a tempo that did not quite convey the spirit of Bach’s writing. The unusually slow Bourrée of the third Suite is a case in point.
In his interesting booklet essay, the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff reminds us that the B minor Suite (No. 2), dating from the late 1730s, may well have been the composer’s last orchestral work. To some extent it bucks the French influence, synthesizing the French suite with the solo element of the Italian concerto. Soloist Rachel Brown gives a mellifluous performance with an intuitive application of ornament.
This is an engaging release, in which currently fashionable sound-barrier-breaking tempos are mercifully absent. One or two little insecurities in the oboe rank did little to dampen my enthusiasm.