BACH: Overtures: Complete Orchestra Suites – Freiburg Baroque Orch./ Petra Müllejans & Gottfried von der Golta – Harmonia mundi (2 CDs)

by | May 19, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

BACH: Overtures: Complete Orchestra Suites – Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/ Petra Müllejans & Gottfried von der Golta, concertmasters – Harmonia mundi 902113.14 (2 CDs), 1:33:42 *****:
Like so much of Bach’s music, we don’t know exactly when, where, or for what reason these pieces were created. There are no original scores, only parts that were later reconstructed during the Leipzig period, which is how we now know them. Some of the revisions are indisputably in Bach’s hand, others not, so the detective work needed to analyze the origins is considerable. The B-minor Suite for instance, original was in A-minor, and most likely not scored for flute or oboe. Likewise many of the trumpet parts; other parts tend to emphasize that the suites were originally scored for far less festive forces than what we enjoy now. Nor are the dates certain; most parts come from the Leipzig period, but the style and form indicate an early period, perhaps Cöthen.
The numbering of the Suites is also suspect, done according to what was thought to be order of composition, yet now challenged almost universally. But their absorption of the French style is unquestioned, once called simply “Overtures”, and each featuring such in pure French style, the same way the companion Brandenburg Concertos lionize the Italian style. Since Bach never culled these pieces into a single volume like he did with the Brandenburgs, we cannot be sure of the final take on any of them, and their purpose will likely never be discovered; perhaps it was intended for outdoor entertainment, a collection of dance music for nobility, or even a lighter weight concert opening—there is no telling. But one thing is for sure—the Suites are among the most popular of all of Bach’s music, with several movements hitting the favorites charts in a big way, and are not likely to lose affection in the minds of most music lovers.
There are lots of recordings available, from early 1960s to last year, modern and period instruments—all have their moments.  Sound-wise the later the better in this instance, so this one from the Freiburgers should hold special attraction. Tempos are quick but reasonable, textures sparkling and emphatic, while the longer lines of the more temperate movements are suitably curvaceous and well-executed. Repeats are taken and there’s the rub–Martin Pearlman and the Boston Baroque turned in a wonderful set of these suites (Telarc) on only one SACD that is easily the equal to this one in quality and superior in sound, but there are some cuts. Pearlman’s recording is well worth the investment no matter what, but those wanting a fuller effort may wish to consider this brand new effort even at an additional seven dollars for the extra CD. Either way you can’t lose in performance and interpretation. A fine release!
—Steven Ritter

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