Bach Complete Orchestral Suites

A strong contender in a crowded field

Author: 
Andrew Farach-Colton
Bach Complete Orchestral SuitesBach Complete Orchestral Suites

BACH Complete Orchestral Suites – Pearlman

  • (4) Orchestral Suites, No. 1 in C, BWV1066 (2 oboes, bassoon & strings)
  • (4) Orchestral Suites, No. 2 in B minor, BWV1067 (flute & strings)
  • (4) Orchestral Suites, No. 3 in D, BWV1068 (2 oboes, 3 trumpets, strings
  • (4) Orchestral Suites, No. 4 in D, BWV1069 (3 oboes, 3 trumpets, strings

Scholars are now sure that Bach did not plan his four orchestral suites as a set – unlike the six Brandenburg Concertos. It seems likely, then, that the stylistic diversity exhibited in the suites is inadvertent, not, as in the case of the Brandenburgs, an overt display of compositional virtuosity. (Note, too, the striking similarities between the two suites in D.) On recordings, however, the suites are usually presented as an entity, so the fact that each has its own identifiable personality actually has taken on interpretive significance.

On this Telarc disc, Martin Pearlman effectively delineates the unique character of each work. The C major suite is essentially lyrical, its phrases unfolding in long, florid arcs; the B minor suite is more fidgety, particularly in the Overture, with its tense trills; and the two D major suites combine grandeur and gaiety. Yet Pearlman remains true to the specific nature of each dance form, as well – listen to the four bourées in succession (the only dance that appears in every suite), for example, and you will find a remarkable consistency of tempo and spirit. Special attention has also been paid to details of instrumental balance, with admirably transparent results. Some might prefer a bit more thrust and bite from the trumpets in the D major works, where Pearlman prefers to blend the brass into the orchestral fabric, but the sound is still exhilaratingly brilliant.

The crystalline quality of Telarc’s recording reveals a few slight imperfections in the strings’ intonation; otherwise Boston Baroque’s virtuosity and élan leaves little to be desired. Indeed, the Bostonians’ interpretation is a strong contender in a crowded field, and I warmly recommend it alongside splendid versions from Savall (Auvidis, 6/91) and Brüggen (Philips, 9/97).

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