Bach Orchestral Suites
“Orchestral Suites for a young prince” is what this release advertises, in reference to the fact that Sonnerie perform Bach’s familiar suites in versions adapted to conform to how they might have been if (as seems likely) they were originally written for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, Bach’s employer from 1717 to 1723, instead of in the versions in which they survive today, dating from his Leipzig years. It is partly a matter of scale – the Cöthen court band, like Sonnerie, was essentially a large chamber group – but there is more to it than that: Suites Nos 3 and 4 are shorn of their trumpets and drums, while No 2, the B minor “flute suite”, has been reconstituted in an A minor version with an oboe as its lead instrument.
Gonzalo X Ruiz, who made the reconstruction and plays the oboe in it, makes a convincing case in his booklet-note and, more clinchingly, in his performance, which demonstrates the fluency and dynamic control of a flute, as well as its ability to blend smoothly with the strings. In the low-lying opening, indeed, you might even be fooled momentarily into thinking a flute was playing, and only in the variation section of the Polonaise does it sound as if one might be more at ease. Suites Nos 3 and 4 gain enormously in clarity and lightness, as would be expected, but while No 4 retains its spark and character in the slighter scoring, No 3 does occasionally sounds like a piece in which something has gone missing.
Nothing lacks from Sonnerie’s playing, however, which is generously shaped, beautifully judged for pace and balance, and attractively recorded. This may not, by its very nature, be a Bach Suites recording to oust all others, but it is certainly a classy one.