BACH The Orchestral Suites – Selected Recordings – INKPOT

An Inktroduction

Recordings Survey

by Chia Han-Leon
Oregon Bach Festival Chamber Orchestra/Rilling (Hänssler)
Akademie fr Alte Musik Berlin (HM) | English Concert/Pinnock (DG Archiv)
Academy of Ancient Music/Hogwood (Decca) | Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Koopman (DHM)

The Four Orchestral Suites
Oregon Bach Festival Chamber Orchestra
directed by Helmuth Rilling
On modern instruments.

HÄNSSLER Classic CD 92.132
2 discs [42:54+40:54] mid-price. Recorded July 1992. Reissued 1999.

Although this recording uses modern instruments, the technique and style is somewhere in between modern and “historically informed”. The result is both traditional in spirit yet fresh in interpretation – true to the eternal qualities of Bach. The reading of the First Suite straightaway bursts with life and lyric gaiety. The Oregon Bach Festival Chamber Orchestra is sunny in character and obviously relish these marvellous scores. The French flavour of the music comes across vibrantly and deliciously, rhythms are bounced with toe-tapping danciness. The musicians are not afraid to ornament the score, and in very pleasing manner – there is no doubt that the orchestra deserves to have “Bach” in its name. Especially the oboists! Great praise to the oboists for their vivacious playing and joyous decorations.

Suite No.2 is blessed with equally colourful performances – and this time the bouquet goes to flutist Carol Wincenc of the orchestra – for her winsome, fluid, sparkling and vibrant contribution. Absolutely splendid achievements – try the famous Sarabande and the two Bourres where her ornamentation brings instant delight.

The strings impress with their shining tone – the noble openings of the Third and Fourth Suites are prime examples as they intone the long-breathed notes alongside the trumpets. The style Rilling uses is highly effective. The notes are played long, rather than “bounced” – and yet it’s very musical and enjoyable. The sense of driving rhythm, so crucial in the Third Suite’s overture, is captured admirably. The Air is performed with beautiful breath and voice.

A small detraction comes in the reading of the Fourth Suite, in which the Rilling style does somewhat hamper the sense of momentum, for example in the gavotte. But his light dancing steps in the Menuet is delightfully French – capturing deliciously the exact spirit of the dance. At mid-price, this makes a very favourable investment.

The Four Orchestral Suites.
Akademie fr Alte Musik Berlin (Academy for Ancient Music, Berlin)

2 discs [48:49+48:54] full-price. Recorded Sep 1995 (released 1996; reissued 1999).
Also separately on HMC 901578S (Suites 1 & 3) and HMC 901579S (Suites 2 & 4).

Let the Germans play German musick! These are very detailed performances, with much personality injected into them. The Third Suite opens with some coarse tone, though that is thankfully taken over by a fine rendition of the Overture’s main body. The Air is given a tender reading, contrasting with the vivid momentum of the fast movements. Like in the Fourth Suite, the timpani thunder while punching trumpets penetrate the Baroque architecture with brilliant precision. The heavier movements have strength and weight, and yet the daintier Menuets maintain their grace.

After the military splendour of the Fourth Suite, the Akademie completely change tone in their reading of the Second by reducing their numbers to eight (one part each). The Overture is thus marked with much chamber delicacy. Flutist Ernst-Burghard Hilse maintains his place within the octet nicely, preserving much intimacy throughout. The flute-cello duet of the Polonaise sounds really appropriate, and even the deliberately moderate tempo taken for the Badinerie is totally convincing.

The recording reveals quite a few details (and probably embellishments) I don’t recall hearing in other versions. The First Suite for example, demonstrates its weaving lines readily, an added bonus to the thoroughly Lullyian atmosphere the Akademie achieve. A very fine and nuanced reading of this Suite.

Quite expensive for 98 minutes of music, but an educational experience nonetheless. Most suitable for collectors looking for a refreshing interpretation.

The Four Orchestral Suites. Sinfonias from Cantatas BWVs 42, 52, 174 and 249. “Unser Mund sei voll Lachens” – opening chorus from Cantata BWV 110.
The English Concert directed by Trevor Pinnock

2 discs [64:15+56:24] full-price.

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