JS BACH Orchestral Suites Nos 1, 3 & 4
Scholars speculate that some or all of Bach’s extant orchestral suites originated many years before their earliest surviving Leipzig sources. Peerless historical wind specialists Zefiro put such questions aside and let musical sophistication do the talking. There’s no room for the B minor Suite with flute (BWV1067) but the three largest-scale suites (called ouvertures in the original sources) are presented. In BWV1066 trio passages are played by oboists Alfredo Bernardini and Paulo Grazzi and bassoonist Alberto Grazzi with unerring momentum and nuanced deftness (eg the second Bourrée) – matched stroke for stroke by the contoured strings and judicious harpsichord continuo. French-style dances lilt, sway or scamper, with a keen attention to charismatic details (the pair of Passepieds is an ideal compound of liveliness and refinement). Moreover, the largest-scale music with trumpets, timpani and woodwinds is never merely bellicose but always shaded intelligently: fulsome moments such as the Gigue that concludes BWV1068 and the thrilling Ouverture that launches BWV1069 lack nothing in richness but also have conversational transparency and dancelike ebb and flow. More intimate moments are also judged perfectly, nowhere more so than from the unison first violins’ cantabile sensitivity in a beguiling performance of the famous Air in BWV1068.
Bernardini ‘reconstructs’ two ouverture-style movements based on the hypothesis that several elaborate opening choruses of Leipzig sacred cantatas could have been arranged from unknown lost orchestral pieces, and he takes inspiration from Bach’s own adaptation of the ouverture from BWV1069 for the beginning of Cantata No 110, Unser Mund sei voll Lachens. Accordingly, the start of No 194, Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest, is rearranged into an orchestral piece for four-part reeds in dialogue with strings, and the first chorus of No 119, Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn, is converted into a splendid ouverture featuring four trumpets, timpani, two recorders, three oboes, bassoon and strings; Zefiro’s radiant performances produce a convincing outcome to the experiment. It’s a nice touch that this album is dedicated affectionately to the memory of pioneering Baroque oboist and musicologist Bruce Haynes.