Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Album Review: J.S. Bach: Ouvertüren

I grew up with Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra’s recording of the Bach’s Orchestral Suites for EMI. They were gorgeously played but hardly historically informed performances. Now period instrument bands enjoy interpretive hegemony in this repertoire, so this new set by the Freiburger Barockorchester isn’t the novelty it would have been some years ago.
The suites or “ouvertüren” as they are called in performance source materials are filled with some of Bach’s most colorful orchestral writing. Two of the suites (BWV 1068 and1069) are richly scored for an ensemble that includes trumpets, drums, oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo. The BWV 1066 is more modestly scored for oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo, while the BWV 1067 for flute, violins, viola and continuo. Each of the suites is comprised of dance movements that run a range of styles and moods.

The Freiburger Barockorchester is in top form here. The Suite No. 1 showcases the Freiburger’s clean, crisp playing in this most elegant of the Suites. It’s become au courant to perform the Suite No. 2 with a different instrument in the familiar flute part (Jeanne Lamon’s new Tafelmusik recording makes a convincing case for the violin while Gonzalo X. Ruiz plays the oboe on Ensemble Sonnerie’s recording – a fascinating album that addresses a bunch of performing issues). On this recording Karl Keiser’s marvelous sweet tone makes a convincing case for the transverse flute, an instrument I usually loathe. I loved the rhythmic snap of the energized dance numbers in the Third Suite and the trumpets (a trio of them headlined by the legendary Friedemann Immer) and oboes pop throughout. Only a lugubrious take on the famous “Air” weakens the performance. The Suite No. 4 showcases some spectacular playing by oboists Katharina Arfken, Andreas Helm and Thomas Meraner and bassoonist Javier Zafra in the Bourrées. I sometimes find the Freiburger sound to be hard-edged, especially the strings, but not here. This one is a beauty.

Click to sample and buy the album

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